People deserve answers

Comment & Opinion

QUESTIONS BEING ASKED  Western Care’s management practices are currently being scrutinised.

Many Mayo lives are touched by the unfolding crisis at Western Care 

Western Care Association has a deep resonance with the people of Mayo. It was set-up by a concerned group of parents in 1966 out of necessity. They had children with special needs and supports were nowhere near adequate enough at that time. So they took matters into their own hands, so to speak, instead of waiting for the Government and the State to act.
Led by its founders Johnny Mee, Michael Joe Egan and Tom Fallon, from small beginnings, the organisation grew and grew. It reaches into every corner of the county.
With over 850 service users and 1,000 full and part-time employees, thousands of homes in this county have a direct link to Western Care.  
Services are provided all over the county too. The organisation provides wonderful assistance to so many service users and their families. There are countless examples of this.
But the grá many people in the county have for the organisation should not prevent necessary questions being asked when it emerges there are problems in the organisation also.

Review underway
The association has appointed Dr Aoife O’Donohue as Interim CEO during what Western Care’s board chairperson Iarla Duffy has described as a ‘very challenging time’.
Western Care has stated it is currently ‘undertaking a review of the organisation’s management structures’, a review which Dr O’Donohue has described as ‘a significant body of work’.
There has been considerable upheaval at the top of the organisation in recent weeks, with a number of high level employees at the organisation placed on leave by outgoing CEO Donal McCarthy, The Mayo News understands.
Subsequently Mr McCarthy had his employment ceased by the board of Western Care. His employment finished on Tuesday, November 22, with Dr O’Donohue taking over the next day. Mr McCarthy had taken up the role of CEO six months previously, in May of 2022.
The level of turmoil was crystallised by calls for an independent investigation from Mayo Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh to this newspaper during the week.
Her calls were not out of sync with many of the concerns raised with this newspaper by current and former members of staff at the organisation.
Deputy Conway-Walsh said she is ‘deeply concerned’ about issues at the association.
She has requested an urgent meeting with Anne Rabbitte, Minister of State for Disabilities and has also submitted Parliamentary Questions on it which could be aired in Dáil Éireann this week.
“I have a duty of care from the information I’ve received and I’m taking that extremely seriously. I’m deeply concerned at this point. The families and people of Mayo need answers.
“I am also very conscious how difficult this is for the many dedicated Western Care workers who work tirelessly to ensure the rights of those in their care are upheld. We need a swift, independent, transparent investigation to deal with this very serious situation,” Deputy Conway-Walsh told The Mayo News.

Watching brief
The HSE provides the vast majority of funding for Western Care. It, it seems, is taking a watching brief during this review.
“The HSE has been advised that the Board of Western Care Association is currently undertaking a review of the organisation’s management structures. This review is to ensure that Western Care Association meets the highest standards of governance in the administration of its duties,” it said in a statement in response to questions posed by this newspaper. “The HSE awaits the outcome of this review and will work with Western Care to ensure the organisation meets the highest standards in governance so it can continue to deliver safe and effective services to people throughout Mayo.”
However, it should be noted that Dr Aoife O’Donohue comes with particular experience and a HSE background.
Western Care describe Dr O’Donohue as having ‘significant experience in implementing service reform and development in line with best practice’. Most recently she worked as Disability Services Manager with the HSE in Community Healthcare West.
It will be interesting to see what parliamentary questions Deputy Conway-Walsh asks and how successful she is in getting the answers required.
Because answers are needed. The matter is of huge public importance, with the amount of State funding at play and, most importantly, the sheer volume of families in Mayo who rely on Western Care to provide vital supports.