Footage shot by the RTÉ Investigations Unit in Ireland showed workers shouting at elderly residents, dragging and kicking out at them as well as force-feeding one woman. Tragically, due to their disabilities, the residents in this unit, Bungalow 3, at Aras Attracta, Swinford, Co Mayo, are unable to speak and so are completely at the mercy of their carers.
I ask myself who are these cruel people?
How long have they worked at Aras Attracta?
Were they ever on bungalow 4 looking after my daughter?
|Home Sweet Home|
|Anna, Marie and Patrick 1989|
|Frightened of everything|
|Us age 5 and 16|
|Learning to walk|
Now I noticed that the older my children got, the more they questioned, and they raised some logical points.
Years earlier I had attempted to write a book about our lives together and now with Marie gone to pastures greener, I took my manuscript out of the drawer and
She’d been in the unit for 18 months and I still got a lump in my throat whenever I saw her. She was a people-watcher, often sitting alone watching the activity around her. As soon as she spotted me she came to life and her eyes watered, just like mine did. Some things you just never get used to and Marie leaving home was one of them.
Sadly, two weeks later the 'dangerously optimistic' rug was pulled from under my feet when my older sister died from cancer and a month later my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. It was such a sad time and I was more thankful than ever that Marie was settled because I knew I could be next.
|A visit to Aras Attracta|
1st September 2000
"Dear Ms Daly,
Further to your letter of the end of July, I regret that the Board did not adequately respond to your enquiry. To answer your question directly the Board has no specific written policy.
The dignity of people in the Western Health Board's facilities is, I believe always respected. And from discussions with the local Director of Services in Aras Attracta he confirms that intimate dealings with female patients are handled by female staff."
I was so relieved when I read the letter and hoped the staff at Aras Attracta would understand my reasons for raising the issue.
I was a single parent and had home-schooled my kids. When they reached 16 they returned to England to study for their GCSE. I needed to find a job. I worked in Dublin for a while during the week and returned to Co Mayo at weekends. Then I began doing agency work in the Uk and literally lived in between the two countries. I often felt torn with Marie in Ireland and Patrick and Anna now living in the UK.
We went out for a few hours and had a meal in the local cafe and when I took her back to the unit, I told the nurses I would return to Ireland in a few months when the weather was warmer, to take her on a holiday. They were really pleased and I couldn’t wait.
That summer I loaded the car with Marie’s favourite things: Joey, the monkey, the baby’s buggy that she loved to push her doll in, our music videos and DVDs, her big fat catalogue, colouring books and pencils. I also took her big container of Duplo bricks, that she spent hours putting together in her own fashion—a house with no roof, a ‘twain’ with no wheels. I’d rented a holiday cottage near Westport on the west coast for two weeks. I was looking forward to some quality time, being able to relax and enjoy Marie's company.
|Knock Shrine 2005|
|In the Swinford hotel|
We stayed another night in the hotel where Marie and I shared a double bed and Anna was in the room next door. Marie snuggled down next to me and was asleep in no time at all. I took out her care plan and began to read.
"Marie enjoys most foods particularly cakes, biscuits and sweets and crisp." That was so true so why oh why was she so seriously underweight.?
"If she doesn't get her own way she urinates on the floor." I thought it was more likely she wanted to go to the toilet and staff hadn't noticed.
"Has regular episodes of screaming, pulling her hair and bouncing on the chair throwing her head back, hitting herself. She may throw herself on the floor, spitting. She may scream and shout whilst out on trips." Spitting - never, she isn't physically able to.
Of course I was delighted she was coming home but I also felt incredibly sad. How it had come to this?
|1 month at home|
|6 months at home 2008|
Marie has now been at home for seven years and although I love her to bits, being a full time carer at the age of almost 62, was not on my life's plan. She'll be fifty next month God love her, and if all had gone to plan she would be securely settled in residential care.
I watch the video clip of those poor women being abused and wonder if Marie has been too. I am so upset over it. I feel absolutely devastated. I remember in 1998 receiving a letter that Marie had had an accident almost a week after it happened. I immediately rang a senior member of staff and was informed Marie had been having a temper tantrum at 7.30 the previous Saturday night and thrown herself back off the chair hitting the corner of the wall and cutting her head. A GP was called and when Marie (whom I imagine by this time was in a very distressed state, bearing in mind her mental age is below that of a 2 year-old) wouldn't co-operate with him stitching the wound she was then taken to Castlebar Hospital and had 4 sutchers. I wrote to the Director at Aras Attracta and complained about the time it took to inform me and I also asked for an accident report. I brought Marie home for a week and gave her plenty of TLC. She was none the worse. Accidents happen and if Marie was that easy to look after she would have been living at home. I did feel it could have been avoided had Marie been moved to a 'safer' area and I put it down to busy staff and not enough of them. Today I look at the accident report filled out by a male staff nurse; 'Temper tantrum, headbanging and kicking. Sat on floor and hit her head backwards on corner of the wall.' but now I find myself scrutinising two conflicting accounts of how Marie was injured and I wonder if she was shoved or pushed by a member of staff. I wonder if the staff nurse on duty the night of her accident is one of those suspended. My mother used to say evil thinkers are evil doers, and I hate to think the worst of them, it's just not in my nature. Then I remind myself of all the lovely nurses I met at Aras Attracta and the vision they had when it first opened. I think of how good they were taking Marie to the chemist time and again to have her passport photo taken. The trouble they went to obtaining a letter from the Gardi enabling Marie to travel to England. I have a photo somewhere of myself with the then Minister for Health Brendan Howlin, at the late official opening of Aras Attracta and I have to keep reminding myself there's a lot of good in the world.
The fact that it was a whistle blower nurse who first alerted concerns about the standard of care long before the TV team did their filming shows the integrity and dedication most of them have.
For all this to happen in a rural area means there is no cloak of anonymity. Everybody knows everybody and there'll be no escaping the public wrath. I don't really feel any sympathy for the staff who abused those poor vulnerable women. However, I do hope the public will remember that the abusers families are innocent victims in all of this. Their lives will never be the same any more than the lives of the families of those poor women will.
|Marie in 2014|
I have always had a great interest in social care and having been on both sides of the fence has given me much perspective. Being a full time carer to Marie makes me almost housebound but I do what I can to help others. I also write family life stories of people with special needs and am founder of Warrior Mums blog for parents of children/adults with special needs.
Since Marie came home I wrote a fourth and fifth part to our book and published under the original title of With a Little Help From My Friends. It's a very appropriate title dedicated to all the people who have helped us over the years.
Again I paid tribute to -
"The nursing staff at Aras Attracta, Swinford, Co Mayo, Ireland for the love and care they gave to Marie."I mean that from the bottom of my heart. There was a time she did have lots of love and care. I just wish it could have continued...
RTE Programme can be viewed through link below until January 28th. 1hr 15m.
Inside Bungalow 3 at Aras Attracta
Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
With a Little Help From My Friends - in paperback
With a Little Help From My Friends - Kindle