Thackeray Place care home in Limavady has effectively been ring-fenced from any potential closure by Health Minister Edwin Poots.
The Minister visited Thackeray yesterday to make clear that the future of the home - and others like it across Northern Ireland - is secure, ending a long period of uncertainty.
Before making the announcement to the expectant elderly residents, families and staff, the Minister stopped to meet with Thackeray’s oldest resident - Magilligan woman Lettie Doherty, who celebrated her 100th birthday just last week.
Lettie’s daughter, Josie McCann, said that the Minister’s announcement was an ‘amazing’ birthday present.
Ms McCann said: “When this came out that it was going to close I asked the Minister ‘do you care?’ and I think he has shown now that he does care.”
After spending a few moments with the 100-year-old Thackeray resident, the Minister addressed the room: “It is good to be here in Limavady. Gregory (Campbell) and George (Robinson) have asked me here because there had been a threat to close the homes.
“I asked that this be looked into and the message that came back to me from Thackeray is that no-one wanted Thackeray to close, so if you don’t want it to close then that is fine with me. We are very happy to keep Thackeray open and you can live here for as long as you wish.”
Staff, residents, families and local politicians who had campaigned for the home’s future applauded the Minister’s assurances.
Responding to the announcement, Limavady woman Josie McCann said: “This is the most incredible news we could have had. It is such a relief, not just for my mother but for all the residents whose home is Thackeray.
“This shows that if you make your wishes heard then sometimes the powers that be do actually listen and I have to give credit where it is due, the Minister has shown he does care and I thank him for that.”
Immediately after making the announcement, Mr Poots told the Sentinel that, across Northern Ireland, homes could be used as a hub for services such as ‘step down care’ for people leaving hospitals or as day centres for people who wish to remain in their own homes. Asked whether his announcement meant all homes would now stay open, he said: “Of course I can’t say that no care home will ever close.
“It wasn’t my policy to close all of the homes in the first place so in relation to the course of work carried out, I asked Fionnuala McAndrews from the Health and Care Board to carry that out.
“She reported back to me and there was a strong level of satisfaction about the care that was being received in the homes, so we while we still have a problem in that we still have homes that have spaces in them and are not fully utilised.
“What I am asking The Health and Social Care Board to do is look at how we can best utilise the homes and that may involve using some of the rooms for step down care for hospitals and also how they can be used for day support care for people who are still in their own homes.”
Asked whether the recommendation to close half of all residential care homes in Northern Ireland, made in the ‘Transforming Your Care’ healthcare reform plan, was now being abandoned, Mr Poots said: “I can see how facilities such as this can support Transforming Your Care in providing those day care facilities and also we can reduce the length of time people have to stay in hospital by fully utilising these facilities with quality staff providing that care.”
Limavady MLA George Robinson, whose mother had been a resident of Thackeray until she passed away and who has campaigned for the home’s future, warmly welcomed the news.
He said: “The news that Thackeray Place is to stay open is one of the happiest pieces of news that we have heard. It has to be remembered that Thackeray Place is not just a building, but it is home to the people who live there. It is a facility that is a vital part of the caring infrastructure of Limavady now and for the future. It is also welcome that the staff have reassurance their jobs have been secured. The care delivered by the staff has been first class and they deserve to be able to continue delivering that essential care.
“The Minister has ensured that people’s homes have been secured, something that the Health Trusts were happy to do away with. This is exactly why the Minister made sure these decisions were being made by the Department and not the Trusts. The Minister has ensured that people have taken priority in the decision making process.
“It was very welcome that the Minister delivered the news in person and that the residents and staff were able to speak directly to him. This was greatly appreciated by the residents and staff.
“The securing of Thackeray Places future is of huge importance for the population of the Limavady area and we appreciate the Minister’s intervention in safeguarding the future of Thackeray Place.”
Visibly moved by the emotion of the occasion, local councillor Alan Robinson said: “Long since the initial decision to close I have continued to visit Thackeray on a frequent basis to give reassurance to the residents that the fight to save their home would continue.
“Having been called by staff on the night in which they were originally told that there was a very real threat of closure to this wonderful facility i know how traumatic these last 12 months have been for all concerned. Seeing the faces of the staff and residents as the Health Minister stood in the day room as he broke this news was indeed a sight to behold on for everyone.
“Thackeray Place is precious to my family as my Grandmother lived and sadly died there and as a resident she received the most wonderful care and attention. I find it difficult to express my emotions on this absolutely fantastic news but all I can say and what I did say to the Health Minister on behalf of everyone within Thackeray is thank you!”
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: “I think, to be fair, Thackeray was always well placed because there weren’t very many vacant rooms, had there been 30 rooms here and 19 of them empty it might have been in a different position.
“I think the Minister has come to an excellent facility to make the announcement that it is a ‘using of homes’ and not a ‘closing of homes’ that is going to be the future and that is a good announcement.”