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‘This is way worse than Áras Attracta’

News


Edwin McGreal

The ongoing scandal at Western Care is worse than that witnessed at Áras Attracta in Swinford from 2014.  That’s according to one former employee of the under-fire Individualised Services section of Western Care.
She was one of seven former and current Western Care employees who relayed their experiences of working in Individualised Services (IS) in this week’s Mayo News.
The seven, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity, outline a broad range of concerns with IS, which is central to the ongoing crisis at the Mayo charity.
One former social care manager in IS said they believe what is happening in Western Care is ‘way worse than Áras Attracta’ and that ‘the organisation is toxic from the top down’.
Another told of how she was ‘hit four or five times on the back of my head with a galvanised metal mop bucket’ by a service user who, she said, was ‘acting out’ due to insufficient supports and an unsuitable environment.
One male employee said ‘individualised services was an investigation waiting to happen’ and spoke of favourtism towards some users over others.
“If you had a problem with any questionable practices, you were blacklisted,” he said.
Another former employee spoke of having to wear a jacket, hat and gloves in bed in one house when sleeping over, so cold was the house a service user was living in.
Another said bullying of staff was ‘widespread’, whilst recounting her own experience. Violent incidents being downgraded was a frequent theme.
“There are other services in IS where staff are assaulted and abused on a daily basis with no internal support and multi-disciplinary support actively fought against by some senior managers,” said another former employee.
The seven people who we spoke to for this week’s paper are among over 30 current and former staff whom this newspaper spoke to in recent months. Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh, who last November called for an independent investigation into issues at Western Care, said she had received many similar concerns in recent months.
“I am deeply appreciative of all the workers, former workers and families who have contacted me in relation to Western Care. I know this isn’t easy for them to do but they continued to contact me and we have a duty of care to ensure that there is a fully independent, transparent investigation right across the board into Western Care services and the Western Care operation.
“I would encourage other people to come forward. At this moment in time I really want to commend the courage of those who have come forward and to assure them that we will continue on to ensure the most vulnerable people in Mayo and those who are working with them are protected going into the future,” she told The Mayo News.

Unregulated
Individualised Services provides supports for service users who live in their own owned or rented accommodation. According to internal figures, there are 33 unregulated IS settings, or homes. Five are in the process of being regulated with health and social care watchdog HIQA while the remaining 28 are subject to an ongoing internal and external review.
In response to questions from The Mayo News in December, HIQA confirmed they had ‘received information of concern relating to’ IS and were engaging with Western Care.
Concerns about Individualised Services were raised in the independent Wolfe Report in 2020 which said IS was ‘very much in a significant crisis situation at the moment’ and detailed the ‘high risk of staff injury’.
A number of Protected Disclosures about IS have been made, one of which led to former CEO Donal McCarthy initiating an investigation into IS in October, with three senior staff placed on administrative leave.
However, Mr McCarthy had his employment terminated by the Board of Western Care in mid-November and was replaced by an interim CEO, Dr Aoife O’Donohue.

Western Care respond
In response to questions submitted by The Mayo News yesterday, Western Care issued a statement saying they remain ‘committed to providing the most appropriate care in the most appropriate setting’. “The care of the 750 people it supports is under constant review so that it can adapt to their changing needs,” they added. This is down from 850 service users stated last month.  
They added they are ‘beginning to roll out new models of care to meet the needs of the people it supports’.
They said ‘two external consultants are undertaking an independent review looking at all aspects of the services provided by Western Care Association’.
“The first stage is focusing on the one-to-one services provided to adults who live on their own and are supported by the organisation,” they said.
Regarding concerns raised by current and former staff in this week’s newspaper, Western Care said it ‘takes concerns raised by its team members very seriously’.
“It is also encouraging its staff to fully engage with the independent consultants, and if they have any concerns to bring them to the attention of the Interim CEO, or their line manager,” added the statement.
Issues at Áras Attracta emerged after an RTÉ Investigates programme revealed disturbing undercover footage of the treatment of residents with intellectual disabilities at Áras Attracta in Swinford.
In the wake of the programme, the HSE suspended 14 workers on full pay pending the outcome of its internal disciplinary process. Five of those workers subsequently resigned from their posts. Separately, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) and An Garda Síochána each launched investigations. The Garda investigation led to criminal charges being taken against six members of staff.