Save St Mary’s Nursing Home campaign

Photo Courtesy of Ann Ryan

David Predeville

In June it was announced that the long-established St Mary’s Nursing Home on Merrion Road (Telford) was to close. Currently, the Centre is a healthcare facility for blind and visually impaired women. It is run under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity and is made up of a Registered Nursing Home and Registered Disability Centre operating on the Campus using shared services. The Centre is unique in the services it provides for blind and visually impaired residents.

The closure at the end of the year will see long-term residents, some of whom have lived there for 20 years, with some past pupils of the blind school having lived there for 50 to 60 years, lose a much-loved home surrounded by friends and staff who are like family. This will also bring to an end a long-standing relationship between St Mary’s and its surrounding communities of Ringsend, Pearse Street, Irishtown, Sandymount, Booterstown, Blackrock and Dún Laoghaire.

St Mary’s has historically been a significant employer for these surrounding communities, while also providing essential disability and elderly care services to these communities and others further afield. Since the notice of closure was publicised, there has been a public outcry and show of support to staff, residents and their relatives, all of whom are still shocked and reeling from this news.

Out of this outcry, a campaign to Save St Mary’s Nursing Home Merrion Road was born and has grown steadily in numbers.

Joe Brabazon, whose wife Kay is a resident in St Mary’s, tells me of his shock at the announcement: “When I first heard the bad news about the closure, I was actually shocked. I never for one second thought that it would close. I trusted the owners, the owners are the nuns. I trusted management even though I’d never met them and I wondered why. That has never been explained to me either. I still don’t understand why nobody from management came and said: ‘Hello, we understand your problem, we are here to help.’ They didn’t even say hello.”

Joe goes on to tell me about the toll this has taken on him, and the constant worry he has about where Kay will go: “The closure itself, like I say, apart from the first shock, it left me in a hole so far as where do I go from here? Where do I find another place for my wife, Kay?”

On top of the distressing news of the closure itself, Joe is also not happy with the communication he has received from management with regard to the closure: “They told us nothing. And that was more frustrating than bad news. It’s just frustration, one drip feed at a time. A drip feed of nothing, to be honest, because I’ve had no satisfaction with them, I had a meeting arranged yesterday. Then, the night before last, after dinner, around 9pm, I got a cancellation by email. So that’s how we’re treated. It’s very hard to put into words how upset and how annoyed I am. I go to sleep thinking about it, I wake up in the morning thinking about it. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m very, very upset. I’m very worried over it. I’m just up against a stone wall. People who can tell me what the next move will be, haven’t told me.”

Staff were notified about the closure on June 3rd by general manager William Corkery. The closure is put down to “insurmountable funding issues.”

Communication with staff has been poor since the closure and a member of staff, who wishes to remain anonymous, has told me: “Senior management hasn’t met with any of the staff. There have been no assurances with regard to staff being kept on contract until the end of the year, no assurances they’ll be able to pay wages. Basically, there has been no communication from the senior management other than the email that was circulated telling us that they were closing.”

Staff are also concerned for the wellbeing of residents being transferred. While St Mary’s has remained covid-free and the staff received a covid hero award from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, there are no guarantees that the virus is not present in whatever homes residents are moved to. “It’s appalling to think in the middle of a pandemic that these residents are effectively being evicted. They’re being moved out of their homes. We feel that these are the people of our society who, during the height of the Covid pandemic were the most vulnerable and most precious of our society, according to Simon Harris. And these people are being discharged, three or four per week. We have no cases of residents with Covid in the nursing home and we are now facing these residents going out and we don’t know to what nursing homes, we don’t know if the nursing homes had any cases of covid where they’re going. We have no assurances.”

The lack of communication to staff is particularly disappointing considering the strain of what was asked of them during the pandemic. “Realistically, what the government and what public health were asking front line staff to do was to do a clinical assessment on themselves every single morning. And make a decision. Make a clinical decision of whether they’re healthy to come into work. And I know for a fact there were some members of staff who had sleepless nights. They were worried about how they felt, if they were coming in, if they were bringing the virus in with them. And that’s what it was like in the early stages of the Covid pandemic in the nursing home. Staff were afraid that they were going to infect the residents and that they were going to die.”

The staff member goes on to tell me that timelines were different for when things were announced publicly and when they actually came to fruition in the nursing home. “While there were announcements in the public domain about what was happening on the ground, there was a time lag of about two or three weeks. There were announcements that there was going to be testing in nursing homes. That was very early in April that it was announced publicly. From our experience here in St Mary’s, we weren’t tested until the 27th of April. So what was happening in the public domain wasn’t necessarily what was happening on the ground.”

The closure notice of St. Mary’s states that the: “decision was reached by the Board following a number of meetings and detailed reviews concerning the funding of the Nursing Home, the necessary implications for the viability of the Nursing Home and its capacity to meet statutory and regulatory requirements namely: the ability to recruit and retain staff needed to provide the high standard of care of the residents to which the Board aspires; the ability to ensure full compliance with HIQA’s requirements; the ability to meet both the capital and current funding requirements to provide the highest standards of both care and regulatory compliance thus ensuring the optimal health, safety and wishes of the residents.”

St Mary’s was initially found to be substantially non-compliant by HIQA in an inspection in December 2018. A followup inspection was carried out in November of last year, the results of which were recently released, since the closure notice. This report states that the premises were substantially compliant. The areas in which St Mary’s was not compliant were Governance and Management, Records, Training and Staff Development, Statement of Purpose and Written Policies and Procedures.

This backs up the question raised by Save St Mary’s campaigner Ann Ryan as to why closure appears to be the only option on the table.

Ann tells me: “There seems to be a conversation going on between the board of management and the HSE and it’s a conversation about the progress of the closure, not a question of whether it should close, so that has been the kind of response we’ve been getting. That worries us because it’s projecting the idea that there is no alternative but a closure. And we don’t accept that actually. We feel it’s a very simplistic view of how to deal with whatever the issues that are going on for the Sisters of Charity in this situation. So there’s a lot of questions we want answered. Why the closure? Why the closure now? Why not address the HIQA requirements? So, it’s kind of incomprehensible how we have gotten to this stage – closure or nothing.”

Ann goes on to tell me how the campaign has been progressing: “Initially we had a protest, or more a supporting display, of action outside the gates of the Merrion Road centre. It was within a week of it being published that it was due to close. Relatives also weren’t able to be with their relatives when this information was received, so there was a lot of stress perpetuated for the residents and staff were trying to deal with that. They were trying to be there in a very emotionally supportive way for residents. Trying to deal with this, on top of the realisation that their own jobs were going to be lost. So we put together a protest of supporters just to show staff that look, we know we can’t be inside with you but there is support to maintain the centre, to keep it open, keep jobs and keep future jobs for the community and future services for the local community. We pushed for the campaign to demand for that, to fight for that. As of yet we are waiting for the unions to come along and endorse things. We are having conversations with them as we speak. We are going to ask them to come out publicly to endorse the Save St Mary’s campaign, to fund it, don’t close it. So that’s our action at the moment. Then we’re proposing for another onsite protest, with the supporters, the volunteers, the various different stakeholders in St Mary’s. And we’re planning for that over the next couple of weeks, for that to happen.”

Since I spoke with Ann, another protest took place on July 22nd. Questions have been raised about St Mary’s closure in the Dáil, Ann also tells me. “We’ve had a number of mentions at government level. Richard Boyd Barrett brought it up as a parliamentary question for the then acting Minister for Health Simon Harris, who referred to it saying he had to have a conversation with the HSE. So little has come back in response to that. Secondly Bríd Smith also brought it up at the special Covid meeting. Again, very little has come back. We’re basically looking to put as much pressure on the government, the newly formed government, that they literally put their money where their mouth is when it comes to wanting to protect the most vulnerable in society while they forge ahead to open up the economy and society again, by making sure that accountable, quality, elderly care be provided in communities. And making sure it’s public as well. Access to the quality care for all. So that’s the plan of action.”

If any NewsFour readers would like to contact the campaign to lend their support. They can do so on Facebook:

And can sign the petition of the same name here: posts/116648726754166/?d=