HSE hires 37 staff for two teens at Limerick care unit

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

ALMOST 40 staff were employed by the HSE to care for two 17-year-olds resident at a special care unit on Mulgrave Street when HIQA arrived for an inspection last September.

ALMOST 40 staff were employed by the HSE to care for two 17-year-olds resident at a special care unit on Mulgrave Street when HIQA arrived for an inspection last September.

Coovagh House is a dedicated facility for troubled teenagers and cost €6 million to build 10 years ago. Staffing shortages have meant that the unit - which has capacity for five teenagers - has gone unused for long periods. And politicians have been highly critical of high running costs estimated at around €2 million per annum. It emerged last year that the security bill for Coovagh House was close to €250,000 in 2011, despite the facility being closed for refurbishment for six months of that year.

That upgrade cost the HSE in the region of €750,000 and the inspection by HIQA was the first since the facility reopened in June 2012.

HIQA had previously criticised Coovagh House as being poorly run, with serious incidents being “poorly managed”. But the latest report - published in recent days - is largely positive and praises the unit’s new manager who was appointed on a full-time basis following the refurbishment.

But HIQA does urge the HSE to hire more staff to allow the unit to function at full capacity “as soon as possible”.

While only two teenagers were resident on the date of the inspection, 37 staff were employed at Coovagh House. These comprised a full-time manager supported by two deputy managers; eight social care leaders, 21 social care workers, a full-time clerical officer, two part-time chefs and two part-time housekeepers. Social workers in teams of four worked around 12 hours per shift, inspectors found.

While the HSE hopes to increase capacity on a phased basis, “the manager told inspectors that there was an insufficient number of staff at deputy manager, social care leader and social care worker grades to make it possible for the unit to offer placements for up to five young people and that this was the subject of ongoing negotiation”, the HIQA report states.

Both the boy and girl resident at Coovagh House on September 26 last were placed there by the HSE Dublin/Mid-Leinster region after applications for detention orders were granted by the High Court. Both had access to a gym, an exercise yard and to St Canice’s Special School while escorted outings were also permitted.

One of the youth’s parents said their child’s health had “improved immeasurably” while in Coovagh House.

The report also found that security standards had improved at the unit.

“Strict procedures were employed in relation to the availability of sharp knives and other potentially dangerous equipment and the young people were constantly supervised when they were in communal areas,” it notes.

In one incident in December 2007, a 15-year-old boy grabbed a knife from an unsecured kitchen press and held a member of staff at knifepoint demanding to be driven to Dublin, leading to a dramatic pursuit in which the Garda helicopter was scrambled. Two girls resident at the unit had also escaped on the same day, meaning the entire population of Coovagh House had gone AWOL.

But there had been only one “unauthorised absence” from the care of staff at Coovagh House since the unit was re-opened, HIQA found.

This had occurred when the youth was being shown another residential centre for a potential placement. Gardai were informed of this incident and the youth safely returned.