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Call for independent investigation into Western Care turmoil

News

'DEEPLY CONCERNED' Rose Conway Walsh ,TD, has submitted Parliamentary Questions in the Dáil on the situation at Western Care.


Edwin McGreal

The ongoing turmoil and upheaval at Western Care Association requires a ‘swift, independent, transparent investigation to deal with this very serious situation’.
That’s according to Mayo Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh who has said she is ‘deeply concerned’ about issues at the association, who provide services for over 850 service users with disabilities in Mayo. They employ 1,000 full and part-time staff in the county.
“I’ve written to the minister (Anne Rabbitte, Minister of State for Disabilities) to ask for an urgent meeting on it. I have also put in Parliamentary Questions on it. 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.
The association has appointed Dr Aoife O’Donohue as Interim CEO during what its chairperson has described as a ‘very challenging time’.
Western Care stated they are currently ‘undertaking a review of the organisation’s management structures’, a review which Dr O’Donohue has described as ‘a significant body of work’.

Upheaval
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 last, November 22, with Dr O’Donohue taking over the next day.
Correspondence from the chairperson of the board of Western Care, Iarla Duffy, to staff on Thursday, November 17 last, seen by The Mayo News, confirms that ‘the board of Western Care has decided that Mr McCarthy’s employment will cease’.
Mr McCarthy had taken up the role of CEO of the not-for-profit organisation six months previously, in May of 2022.
In the same letter, Mr Duffy goes on to state: “We appreciate that this is a very challenging time for the association and its employees, but please be assured that we are putting in place a plan to bring certainty regarding governance in the coming days.”
He added that the board is seeking a permanent replacement for Mr McCarthy.
In a statement issued in response to questions asked by The Mayo News, Western Care Association said that Dr O’Donohue ‘brings a wealth of experience’ to the role, ‘working with people with disabilities in various settings for over 20 years’. It said Dr O’Donohue has
‘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.

Will services be affected?
Dr O’Donohue wrote to families and guardians of service users on Thursday last, informing them of her appointment as Interim CEO.
She said the review taking place is ‘a significant body of work, the overall purpose of which is to ensure the people we support get the best possible support, based on their will and preference, in the most appropriate setting’.
“However, I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you that while this review is taking place, we do not anticipate that there will be any change in service levels,” she added.
The Mayo News asked Western Care for clarity about the number of people absent from their roles at the top of the organisation and how this was impacting on the association’s responsibilities.
Responding via a statement, Western Care said it has a policy ‘of never commenting on matters relating to HR (human resources)’, but that ‘the association can confirm that normal operations are continuing under the leadership of the interim CEO’.
The statement reiterated that the review ‘is to ensure that Western Care Association meets the highest standards of governance in the administration of its duties’.
It stated there is ‘ongoing and appropriate engagement with the HSE’.
The statement goes onto quote Dr O’Donohue thanking her colleagues at Western Care for the ‘warm welcome’ she has received.
“The review of management structures that is currently underway is to ensure that Western Care Association meets the highest standards of governance in the administration of its duties. It would be inappropriate to comment further pending the outcome of that review.
However I would encourage anyone who would like to discuss any matters pertaining to the Western Care Association and its services to contact me directly, or through their service manager,” Dr O’Donohue stated.

Committed
In response to a series of questions from The Mayo News, HSE Community Healthcare West said they have a ‘service arrangement in place with Western Care Association for the delivery of disability services in County Mayo’.
“The HSE in conjunction with Western Care, is committed to providing safe, effective and high quality care to the people supported. The organisation Western Care supports over 850 people in the west of Ireland through residential, day, respite and multidisciplinary supports.
“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.
“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,” they stated.
Western Care Association did not address questions on what led to the need for an internal review.