Building a Better Health Service


Transforming Lives for Adults with Disabilities

Transforming Lives for Adults with Disabilities

“It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s about living life.”

Care assistant Bernie Fitzgerald has witnessed the transformation of a group of intellectually disabled men who have moved from a congregated setting to their own home in the tranquil setting of Youghal, Co Cork.

She notes that it’s the simple things like going out for a walk, helping to prepare their own meals or setting the table for dinner that are making a real difference for the former residents of St Raphael’s in Cork.

“Jerry [O’Callaghan, one of the residents] goes out for a walk, goes out past the gate, down the road. We might pass a particular neighbour every day and he’ll wave and say ‘hi Jerry’ and Jerry will say hello back. It’s the small things that are making such a big difference. It’s not about ticking boxes, it’s about living life. He’s excelling here and has surpassed anyone’s hopes.”

The staff revealed a huge difference in Jerry and how he communicates since he moved into his new home.

“Watching Jerry discover all these things is a joy to watch really, to see the freedom he has now he loves the freedom he has now in the house and he’s only been here four months, the potential is endless,” says care assistant Ken Dempsey.

Elaine Walsh, CNM2, adds, “Life has changed so much since he has moved out. He now has a job, he works every Saturday, and is in charge of the upkeep of the grotto. Rain, hail or sunshine, Jerry will do it. It’s great to see that he knows what he is in charge of and he really enjoys it.”

Deborah Harrington, Project Manager, explains that the transition from St Raphael’s to the home in Youghal is part of the HSE Transforming Lives strategy which in overseeing the move away from congregated settings and shutting institutions.

“It isn’t just part of a national strategy, it is part of an international strategy and best practice and all the research will tell you that people should lead ordinary lives in ordinary places. And as part of that, we have received funding to purchase and develop houses in the community for people to do exactly that – live ordinary lives in ordinary places.”

St Raphael’s, which opened in 1904, was originally a psychiatric institution. It was decommissioned in the early 1990s and went on to accommodate people with intellectual disabilities.

Michael Taunt, a nurse that worked there before its recent closure, highlights the limitations of the congregated, hospital-like setting.

“It was basically just looking after people’s basic needs and the physical care was very good. But that was all that it was limited to,” he says.

“The bedrooms would have had 20 or more people living in them. Most of the people who lived on the ward had a physical handicap so they had to travel down this narrow corridor in their wheelchairs and there wasn’t a lot of room.”

The house in Youghal is the third house in the community to become home to former institution residents.

“We have three houses open at the moment. There’s a fourth to be open in October, with another three to four houses planned thereafter,” reveals Deborah Harrington.

“It’s important to consider that this in not just about a move out of St Raphael’s, it is a move in terms of a change in the model of support. We are moving away from an institutional model of support to a social model of support. The basic tenet of that is to be person-centred, to support the needs of the individual and we’ve been very lucky in that everyone within the staff and we’ve had great support from the community and from the families to assist us in that.”

Families of the residents were understandably initially apprehensive about the move into the community but they have been won over by the changes they have seen.

Margaret Lyons reveals that her son Sean is no longer a danger to himself or others since the move to Youghal.

“Since Sean moved here I have seen great changes in him – he’s a lot happier in himself. When he came to St Raphael’s first, he was banging and was a danger to himself and staff members. He could lie down and bang his head and he had to be slightly restrained for his own safety and the safety of others, but all that has changed. He is completely changed. It’s brilliant,” she smiles.

Donal O’Mahony and Catherine Ryan, the nephew and niece of Finbarr O’Leary, who has been in care nearly all of his adult life and was in St Raphael’s for over 50 years, have also been won over by the visible changes in him.

“Well I suppose we were all nervous about his moving here because he was in care for most of his adult life but he seems to have taken to it like a duck to water. For example, today he is helping out doing stuff in the kitchen, and he loves to be out and about and meeting people and he’s definitely getting to do a lot more of that. It’s definitely a big positive change,” explains Catherine.

And it’s not just the residents that are enjoying the change.

Kim Twohig, registered nurse, intellectual disabilities, says she now loves coming to work.

“It’s different for the staff too because when you are working in an institution, the staff are almost institutionalised too, without even realising it. But now it’s so easy going down here, you still have your duties to do but now you are in a family home setting. I just love coming to my job every day,” she says.

“Now what I love about it is that while you still need to have some forward planning, we do plan on a day to day basis. For example, if it’s a sunny day, we’ll go down to the beach, we could have our dinner outside the front there, or whatever the gentlemen would like to do on any given day. We can bring all that into play and go about our day.”