Monday, July 21, 2008

Irish Times investigation reveals thousands of disabled people wrongly institutionalized

From The Irish Times July 19:

Up to 3,000 people with disabilities are living in outdated institutions and need be transferred to more suitable community settings, it has emerged.

Records obtained by The Irish Times show that health authorities believe that the numbers living in "congregated settings" are significantly greater than previously estimated and they should be in receipt of care in the community.

Officials say the process of de-institutionalising people in older facilities will take years and will require substantial resources.

In some instances the sale of large institutions may be used to fund some or all of the capital costs involved.

However, records show that authorities are concerned that staffing costs in a greater number of community residences are likely to be much greater.

Part of the reason health authorities are moving to take action on the issue of those living in institutional care is the State's decision to sign up to a UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Government has not yet ratified the convention, however.

Article 19 states that disabled people should have the chance to decide where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and they should not be obliged to live in a particular living arrangement.

The Government's record in moving disabled people out of institutional care has been patchy. For example, despite repeated pledges to close down old psychiatric hospitals, more than 1,000 people continue to reside in them.

A further 300 people with intellectual disabilities reside in psychiatric hospitals - even though they may not have a mental illness - because of a historic shortage of proper residential facilities.

Campaign groups for disabled people say the incidence of challenging behaviour is much higher in institutional settings due to the level of disability of residents and the lack of meaningful therapies available.

The Government insists investment is being directed towards the area through a multi-annual investment programme. It also says the plan is complex and involves securing new facilities, ensuring the complex needs of disabled people can be met and that staffing levels will be sufficient to do this.

Annie Ryan, a campaigner for disability rights and author of Walls of Silence - a book on the State's policies towards people with mental disabilities - says standards in many older institutions have improved over time, with a much greater emphasis on therapy and links with the community.

Notwithstanding these improvements, she says the model remains deeply flawed.
The lack of standards and inspections is a major issue for lobby groups such as Inclusion Ireland, an umbrella group representing people with disabilities.

Deirdre Carroll, its chief executive, said: "There are thousands of people in residential settings yet they have no protection in terms of approved standards of care or inspection," she said.