Edith (87) fears for the future

Donaghcloney Care Home near Banbridge is one of seven Four Seasons properties earmarked for closure
Donaghcloney Care Home near Banbridge is one of seven Four Seasons properties earmarked for closure

Just weeks after moving into Four Seasons Health Care’s Donaghcloney Care Home, 87-year-old Edith Armstrong faces an uncertain future, and her family wants answers.

They’re not alone.

Four Seasons, meanwhile, says it has offered what answers it can against a backdrop of underfunding across the social care sector.

Blind for some 20 years and having lost a leg two years ago, Mrs Armstrong nonetheless remained in her own homeuntil a stroke in August meant her family were finally forced to look at residential care.

“She needed 24-hour care, which we, as a family, wanted to give her, but it takes two people to lift her and it just wasn’t feasible for us,” ”said Edith’s son, Sam Armstrong. “That was only seven or eight weeks ago and now we get the word that Donaghcloney nursing home is closing down.”

Edith, he said, was upset and frightened for the future.

Sam was full of praise for staff at Donaghcloney, to whom he couldn’t pay high enough tribute, he said, but from their employers he wanted to know why they chose to admit Edith to a home at risk of closure and what assurance there was that should they move her to another Four Seasons home the same thing wouldn’t happen again.

Stressing that his family was not alone in its predicament, he said: “Alot of the nursing homes around our area are Four Seasons homes. Can we afford to put our relatives into another one and weeks or months down the line they decide to close it?”

A Four Seasons spokesman said there could be no cast-iron guarantees for the long-term future, and there would always be situations in which someone was only recently admitted, but he added: “We obviously wouldn’t move anyone into a care home where we had a plan to close it. Mrs Armstrong would have been admitted by the manager in good faith at a time when the company was still looking at options to keep the homes open.”

Four Seasons, he said, regretted the closures, but the move was not motivated, as had been suggested, by private sector profits.

“They are closing,” he said, “because the fees being paid were not covering the cost of providing care and we were paying quite a lot of money for quite a long time, to subsidise that provision. There is a sector problem, a situation of underfunding in social care, that poses a long-term threat.”

Stormont Health Minister Simon Hamilton responded to the news by calling a halt to consultation on the proposed closure of 10 state-run residential care homes, including Dromore’s Skeagh House, though Crozier House in Banbridge is not among the state homes under threat.

MLA Stephen Moutray said: “This is a real blow to the Donaghcloney area, with 24 residents affected and 41 members of staff facing redeployment. . . it is imperative we do all we can to allay fears and assist in the process.”

Councillor Mark Baxter added: “ It is imperative that everything that can be done by the Trust will be done to ensure that those who are living in the care home are accommodated and transfer happens in a seamless and in the least traumatic way possible.”

Four Seasons has said it hopes to retain as many staff as possible and expects most will be able to transfer.