William Butler Yeats wrote once that Irelan d ‘is no country for old men’. Well, according to the Chairman of the Thurles Community Hospital of the Assumption Action Group, Mr Sean Fogarty, little has changed since Yeats put pen to paper in his poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’.
Written in 1926 when he was 61,’Sailing to Byzantium’ is Yeats’s definitive statement about the agony of old age and the imaginative and spiritual work required to remain a vital individual even when the heart is “fastened to a dying animal” - ie. the body. Yeats’s solution is to leave the country of the young and travel to Byzantium, where the sages in the city’s famous gold mosaics could become the “singing-masters” of his soul. He hopes the sages will appear in fire and take him away from his body into an existence outside time, where, like a great work of art, he could exist in “the artifice of eternity.”
Well, there is no such escape clause for those on the respite waiting list for the Thurles Community Hospital of the Assumption – there will be sailing to Byzantium – just the miserbale knowledge that society has forgotten the elderly and vulnerable and in unlikely to remember them again too soon.
Speaking at the packed public meeting in The Tipperary Institute this week, which was called in an attempt to re-ignite the fight to have 27 respite beds restored to the hospital, Mr Fogarty, the former County Councillor, Chairman of the Tipperary County GAA Board, Munster Council Chairman and GAA Presidential candidate, was highly critical of the decision to close the beds in the hospital and said that every attempt would be made to have the facility back to full capacity – 72 beds.
“Every tribe and race of people all over the world have respect for the elderly and care for them greatly. But we have reached the very sad state in Ireland that once you have paid your last penny in tax, you are useless. That is a terrible situation but that seems to be the Ireland we are living in, unfortunately,” Mr Fogarty said.
The ultra-modern hospital which was opened just six years ago amid much hype and fanfare, began to see numbers drop just 48 months after the opening. Since then 40% of the bed capacity has disappeared while the waiting list for respite care gets longer and longer. At present there are 4 respite beds in the whole of North Tipperary and there are 487 on the waiting list.
“ We have a fabulous new hospital that we have spent millions in building and yet we cannot find the funds to keep it going. Where, in the name of God, is the joined up thinking? The fact that this hospital has been running within budget has not been taken in consideration at all when they cuts were made. We have hospitals running millions over budget and they are being left alone. Again, where is the joined up thinking?” Sean Fogarty asked.
Mr Fogarty outlined how Health Minister James Reilly had met the Action Group on November 9th 2011 and fully understood the injustice done to the Thurles Community Hospital of the Assumption. “He gave a firm commitment and promise that he would restore the beds by the end of January. Nothing happened. On April 18th we had another meeting with him and we, and everyone else present, including the TD’s and HSE officials, were astounded when he stated that he did not remember making any promises. We asked him to produce the minutes of the meeting – he (Minister Reilly) looked at the officials; the officials looked at the ceiling. That was the end of that,” an angry Mr Fogarty said.
Having revealed that officials from the Health Service Executive had been invited to attend the meeting, Mr Fogarty was also critical of the two Government supporting TD’s -Deputy Noel Coonan, who was pressent, and Minister Alan Kelly who was not - who had attended a meeting with the HSE but “sang dumb” despite having attended a very public rally and pledging support to do everything they could to rectify the beds situation.
The Action Committee has been very active in trying to take the fight to the Minister and the HSE and has pledged not to give up the chase. The committee members are operating at their own expense; the Action Group does not have a bank account; but their determination and resolve to see the Hospital of the Assumption back to full capacity is stronger than ever.
As one staff member put it at the public meeting - “When we had nothing in this country, the hospital was full with hundreds of patients and we looked after them all. Now, we are supposed to be well off and we can’t even afford to keep half the beds open,”
Mr Fogarty vowed to keep the underfire Minister Reilly under pressure in relation to the Thurles hospital and added ruefully, “the truth has been sadly lacking in this whole saga.”
‘The truth – what is that?’ - Pontius Pilate, who famously washed his hands of a pretty significant problem also.