'How can vulnerable people be treated so unfairly?'- family's despair at specialist centre closure
- Credit: Inga Hass
The family of a young woman with severe disabilities from Letchworth has called on the provider of a South Cambs specialist day centre to rethink closure plans - saying it was a "great injustice" to treat vulnerable people so unfairly.
Inga Hass' daughter Jasmine has complex physical and mental conditions, which mean she needs round-the-clock care.
She has been attending Orchard Manor in Meldreth for nine years. The Orchard Manor site was taken over by The Aurora Group in 2016 and the Skills Development Centre includes an adapted kitchen, sensory room, music room, hydrotherapy pool and more.
Aurora has now informed Inga and other families of service users that the skills centre facility will close on July 23.
Jasmine's mum Inga told this newspaper: "Jasmine is such an easy-going, beautiful girl. She is registered blind, she can't talk, she has a feeding tube, she needs a wheelchair and she requires specialist care.
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"Orchard Manor means so much to us. It is a place of safety for her to go during the day and she needs the specialised care she receives there.
"There is nothing else like Orchard Manor. We look after Jasmine ourselves at home, but when she's there in the day she gets to be with others her age, she's got to know the staff there who are great with her. She really enjoys it."
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When Inga and her husband Vaughan spoke to Aurora, they were told the closure was due to the government policy changing.
She said: "They have said about inclusion in the community, but she needs specialist care that she can't access in the community. I was also told demand for placements is falling, but I think they are saying that because of COVID - there is still demand for places.
"We have had a difficult year at home, Jasmine had pneumonia and was very nearly admitted to hospital.
"The prevention of admissions team came out every day to manage her health really well."
Inga drove Jasmine to the centre five days per week before the pandemic - they made their own way due to the centre being just over the county border in Cambridgeshire.
She said: "With lockdown easing, we were optimistic she would go back properly - she has just started doing two or three days a week.
She said: "It's not easy getting her there, but we do it because we want the best possible life for our daughter. We want her to be able to enjoy these things and be with people her own age. Her condition is life-limiting and they didn't think she'd survive to adulthood and she has.
"She can't speak so we have to be her voice. We are standing up for her. We love her so much and we just want the best for her. This has been part of her life for a long time."
Jasmine is 29 - so provision would usually need to be found elsewhere when she turns 30, but Inga says she was assured by staff she would get another year at Meldreth due to the pandemic.
Inga has said The Aurora Group is going against their mission statement and values by closing the skills centre so abruptly.
"We need time to look around properly," she said. "I need to know she's in the right place, and I want her with her peers - certainly not mixed in with the elderly," she said.
"It's a great injustice, I think they thought we would shuffle off into the background and not be heard. We want to make our voices heard, we want people to realise how unfair this is. How can anyone do this to people who are so vulnerable? You don't treat people like this."
"They should've prepared us, not phoned up and said we're closing in 10 weeks. It feels like the little people are being trodden on, it's all about money - it's a shame we get pushed aside.
"It has been tough enough over the last year trying to protect our loved ones from COVID, let alone anything else.
"Coming out of the COVID pandemic, we all need to look after each other and we hope a solution can be found."
A spokesperson for The Aurora Group said: “We understand that parents of the young people who attend our day service would very much like the Skills Development Centre in Meldreth to remain open.
"Its closure is no reflection on the quality of the service that we know families appreciate and it is unrelated to the pandemic.
“Regrettably we have no alternative as the centre no longer has enough demand with sufficient funding to cover running costs.
"Government policy now favours community inclusion which is often more economic to provide.
“Aurora has tried for some time to find a way of making the Skills Development Centre sustainable, by contrast many other organisations in the UK in a similar position to us have already closed their day services.
“We understand this is a difficult time for young people, families and staff. We are in touch with parents and are doing all that we can to support them. We are also consulting with staff whose roles are regrettably also affected.
“However it is also important for us to be clear, that residential services at Orchard Manor and Meldreth Manor are not affected by this difficult decision.”