Amelie McCormack.

‘It’s desperately needed’ - mum

The mother of a young service user has slammed the “lack of ownership” and “problem solving” that has seen a much-needed therapy pool lying empty.

Last month, theCeltrevealed the €440,000 hydrotherapy pool at the Hillside Centre in Cavan was only used for six months since it was built in 2018.

“I actually was surprised when I read in the newspaper that the pool had been open for six months,” says Pamela McCormack.

“We were never told [it was open]. I would say we’re a fairly active family within the community there. I would have expressed myself all the time that ‘If this ever opens, please make sure we’re one of the families that would be using it’.”

Pamela’s daughter Amelie was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome in her first year. A genetic neurological and developmental disorder, it sees the loss of motor and language skills, progressively, over time.

Now aged 11 and a half years, Amelie can no longer speak and can only communicate using her eyes. She requires full-time care from Pamela.

“We started going to the services just as the Hillside Centre opened. They were working on the pool at the time. Her physio said it would be brilliant for Amelie.

“A lot of people would say, ‘Why not just take her to a swimming pool?’ It’s not the same.”

Amelie’s Rett Syndrome has led to her developing dystonia, a common affliction in people with some disabilities, which sees muscles contract and twitch involuntarily. There is no cure but medication and treatment can help manage it.

Pamela says the pool would be ideal for Amelie as a form of treatment for the condition.

“It’s a tightening of the muscles so they’re in spasm. It would be perfect with the heat of the pool. There’s a hoist there so she could go into the pool safely. You’d have a physio so they’d be able to do up a programme.

“She’d have the heat, she’d have the safety of us being there and a physio being there. It would help her gait.”

Movement and treatment are important for Amelie, it’s “a use it or lose it” scenario. Unfortunately for her, Covid and a lack of service provision have seen her condition worsen.

“During the Covid period, we couldn’t get out of the house so she was losing the ability to walk. At the time everybody was scared to leave and she was very vulnerable. She lost the confidence to walk, that’s really what happened.”

Enable Ireland, which runs services within the Hillside Centre, says the pool cost €440,000 to build and opened for use in 2018.

However, the lifeguard employed left the service in 2019 and, as of yet, has not been replaced. This coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means the pool remained closed throughout 2020 and 2021.

A business case has been submitted to the Department of Health in a bid to secure the €56,585 needed every year to run the much-needed facility. Disabilities Minister Anne Rabbitte voiced her hope the pool could be reopened when she visited the centre last month.

However, reopening the pool isn’t just a case of filling it and keeping the lights on. A lifeguard is needed, as well as training for physios who carry out treatments using the pool.

Let down

The lack of progress is a frustration for the McCormacks and other families, particularly as they know the difference it would make for their loved ones. Pamela says people have been let down by the ongoing issues, primarily the families of service users, but also those who raised thousands to go towards the pool’s construction.

“I know people personally who fundraised to get that pool put in. Once you fundraise and hand the money over, then you’re not involved in it in any way. They do ask me and I say it was definitely built, it’s just never seen water in it.

“One woman raised €10,000 because they had really pushed home how important it [the pool] was to get this open. She went out and fundraised and I’m sure there are families out there whose kids were in services and are now in adult services and never saw the inside of that pool.”

The pool is the only such facility in Cavan and Monaghan. Discussions around building a new one took place when plans for the new Holy Family School in Cootehill were being drawn up but it’s understood the same issues around the ongoing funding and staffing saw the plans dropped.

“Cavan is a centre for special needs,” points out Pamela, highlighting the work of the services and the likes of the Holy Family School.

“It’s such a shame because it’s desperately needed. I don’t know what’s holding it back.

“We need a real answer. Where’s the problem solving? Where can we come up with a solution to this? There’s no point in saying this hasn’t happened because of this, how can it be helped? It’d be great for them to say ‘it hasn’t happened but we’re going to make it happen’.”

Councillors criticise pool's closure

The continued closure of the hydrotherapy pool at the Hillside Centre in Cavan has been described as “not good enough”.

Councillors discussed the issue briefly at their May monthly meeting, where Cllr Madeleine Argue (FG) said it would be of “great benefit” to people in the region.

“They sometimes have to go to Navan or someplace else. To have a pool sitting idle is just not good enough”.

Cllr Aiden Fitzpatrick (FF) seconded her call for the issue to be highlighted with the HSE.

“To have it sitting there idle is just not good enough, really and truly. The pool is there. People are talking about it and complaining. My own niece actually could have used it but at the time it wasn’t available either.

“It’s very important to get that into the community.”


€400,000 pool lies empty