23 May 2022

Deaf woman (34) in 'solitary confinement' at South East nursing home sues HSE

Deaf woman (34) sues HSE over being placed in facility for the elderly

The health and well-being of a profoundly deaf woman with physical disabilities placed by the HSE in a nursing home since 2017 is deteriorating, the High Court has heard.   

The action has been brought by a 34-year-old Jennifer Walsh who is profoundly deaf, has a significant physical disability and uses a wheelchair. She says that despite the best efforts of those working there, the nursing home is inappropriate. 

Her barrister Felix McEnroy SC, appearing with Sarah McKechnie Bl, told the High Court that his client is "of full capacity" but has been for many years been wrongly designated as having an intellectual disability. 

Counsel said this has harmed Ms Walsh and the HSE does not appear to have a care plan for his client and has placed her in an "utterly unacceptable" environment.  

The HSE counsel added had disregarded independent medical and social work opinion and concerns for her's health and had wrongly stated that she had been abandoned by her family.

Counsel said what was needed were solutions to address Ms Walsh's situation and requirements, but said her lawyers were either being "stonewalled" by the HSE or offered with offers that were not feasible nor realistic. 

Counsel said his client was assessed by the HSE in 2005 and deemed to have a mild intellectual disability.  Counsel said that the assessment is incorrect.

Counsel said she likes various TV programmes, prefers Coronation Street to Fair City, because it has better storylines, and likes to have a beer when out with her brother.  

Since 2005, counsel said the services currently provided to Ms Walsh do not meet her needs and had inappropriately placed her environments for the intellectually disabled, which have caused her to deteriorate significantly.   

Counsel said a psychiatric assessment by a respected consultant had established that she was not suffering from a mental disorder. 

Since 2017, counsel said Ms Walsh has been a resident at a County Carlow-based nursing home, where all the other residents are elderly. While the home, Riverdale Nursing Home, Ballon, County Carlow, and its staff has done its best for her, however, it is a highly inappropriate place for her, counsel said. 

Counsel said she had been put in the nursing home on a temporary basis, but that was almost two years ago. 

As Ms Walsh has been left isolated from her peers, and her current situation counsel said was like being in "solitary confinement". She lives her life mainly through "a computer screen," counsel added.

Ms Walsh can only communicate through Irish Sign Language, which nobody else at the nursing home can understand, and has to use either an IPAD or phone text messages to communicate with others at the home.

A sign language interpreter, who acts as a personal assistant, is only available to her for 20 hours a week, counsel said.  

The HSE had proposed moving Ms Walsh to a house with a person with intellectual difficulties, but she was against this as it was inappropriate.   

Counsel said that Ms Walsh had expressed a desire to be present in court when the full case is heard. The services of an Irish Sign Language translator would be required on that, counsel added.  

In her action against the HSE, Ms Walsh seeks various orders, including an order for damages and declarations. She seeks orders requiring the HSE to provide a care plan for her, provide her with the services she requires, and that she be comprehensively assessed. She also seeks an order quashing the decision to place her in the nursing home, which is a designated centre for older persons, and not a centre for persons with disabilities.  

She further seeks damages for personal injury suffered as a result of the alleged breach of duty, the reckless infliction of emotional damage, and the breach of her rights under EU law.  

HIQA is a notice party to the proceedings. Counsel said his client did not want to bring the action, but had "nowhere else to go", other than the court. 

Permission to bring the challenge was granted on an ex parte basis by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan on Thursday. 

The judge, acknowledging the serious and urgent issues raised in the case made that matter returnable to a date next week.  

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