COURTS: Deaf woman's claim over being placed in Carlow nursing home to go to mediation

Report from the courts

Aodhan O'Faolain


Aodhan O'Faolain


Carlow Carlow Carlow

File photo

A damages claim brought by a profoundly deaf woman with physical disabilities against the HSE's decision to put in her a nursing home is to go to mediation the High Court has heard. 

Last May, 35-year-old Jennifer Walsh who requires a wheelchair and can only communicate through Irish Sign Language launched proceedings over being placed by the HSE in a nursing home in Carlow in 2017. 

She claims the placement at the nursing home, despite the best efforts of those working there, is inappropriate and she is left feeling isolated.  

Represented by Felix McEnroy SC, appearing with Sarah McKechnie Bl, Jennifer claims that despite being of full capacity she has been wrongly designated and assessed by the HSE as having an intellectual disability.

She claims that her placement in the nursing home has been harmful for her.  

She also claims that the HSE has disregarded independent medical evidence and social worker's opinions and concerns about her health.

In her action Jennifer claims that the services currently provided to her do not meet her needs and the HSE had placed her in an environment which has caused her to deteriorate significantly.  

All the other residents at the Riverdale nursing home in Ballon, Carlow are elderly. 

She claims that nobody else at the nursing home can understand her as they do not speak Irish Sign Language, and she 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.  

The HSE had proposed moving Jennifer to a house with a person with intellectual difficulties, but she is against this as she believes that it also inappropriate for her needs and "the same as the nursing home".   

In a sworn statement to the court she said: "I don't want to be alone anymore. This has to stop".

She said that she was brought back for a visit with the deaf community at St Mary's School in Cabra, Dublin where she had attended school until she was 21 years of age. '"I loved it there. I met by old teacher, my SNA, and my friends." 

"I was welcomed back. I could communicate with people again. I did lots of things there. I did activities. I went to Mass. I had my meals. I came out of the dark. I was happy again, and I did not want to leave." she said adding that going back to the nursing home was "really hard."  

In her action against the HSE, Jennifer 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 physical 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. The HSE opposes the action, and denies any wrongdoing. 

Earlier this year Mr Justice Charles Meenan, when ruling in a pre-trial motion in the case directed that a modular trial take place.

The judge ruled that the first module should deal with Jennifer's entitlement to any orders, declarations and if she is entitled to damages. 

Should damages be awarded the second modular, he said will deal with the assessment of damages. 

In his ruling the judge said the case was "complex" and suggested that the parties which are represented by skilled and experienced lawyers consider going to mediation. 

When the matter returned before the court this week. Mr Enroy, and Mr Gerard Durkan  SC for the HSE informed the court that the parties were willing to go to mediation, which was expected to take some weeks to carry out. 

The judge welcomed the fact the parties are prepared to try and resolve the dispute outside of the courts and adjourned  the case to allow the mediation take place.