‘Smoke screen’ claims over shock closure of St Albans care home

A CHARITY which claims it has been forced to close a home for blind elderly people due to red tape has been accused of using the reason as a “smoke-screen.”

The Herts Advertiser revealed last week that the 24 residents at St Raphael’s in Avenue Road have been left heartbroken by the news that their home is to close by the end of September, leaving them having to find alternative accommodation in just over three months.

Difficulties in complying with legislation and regulations were cited as the reason for the closure by the Anglican charity which owns the home, St John’s Guild.

But it has since emerged in a letter to one of the resident’s relatives that the closure is part of a “10-year business plan.”

The letter, sent by the chair of directors Judy Dunk to Robert Powell, whose blind 96-year-old mother lives at the home, said that St John’s Guild had undertaken a “full and extensive review of all its business activities”.

It continued: “The Guild has developed its 10-year business plan and strategy which fully explored and considered all options regarding the future of St Raphael’s Care Home. The decision was taken by the directors that closure would be the most sensible way forward in order to build upon the work of St John’s Guild.”

This admission was despite chief officer Richard McEwan telling Mr Powell that there were three areas of legislation which rendered the home ‘unfit for purpose.’

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Mr Powell said: “I am not convinced that all the options for the continuation of St Raphael’s have been fully explored and Mrs Dunk’s letter now indicates to me that the closure was actually the first option for the trustees of St John’s Guild. In my opinion, the comments about buildings and legislation were all part of a smoke-screen to hide the trustees’ true intention to close St Raphael’s and presumably sell or redevelop the site.”

He said the charity still had a duty of care for the residents and therefore closing the home at such short notice reflected badly on St John’s Guild.

Like others, Mr Powell understood that the lift at the home was at the centre of the building regulation problems because it was too small, but he said doubt had been cast on whether they needed to fulfil any requirements as they were an existing provider.

And he pointed out that �50,000 had already been raised by the charity in 2008 towards the �125,000 cost of improving the lift and he questioned where the money would go.

Mr Powell added: “The impression that I have gained is that this very serious and distressing decision appears to have been reached without the directors of the St John’s Guild having taken all possible steps to ensure that the high standards of support and care provided to the frail and vulnerable residents of St Raphael’s continues.”

The staff, who have also seen the letter from Mrs Dunk, have appealed to MP Anne Main to intervene.

Their letter to her read: “This letter proves that the decision to close St Raphael’s has been made by the directors of St John’s Guild just because they can. It looks as if it is not the building that is ‘unfit for purpose’ but the directors, and this should be thoroughly investigated by someone like you who can delve into the Charities Commission and the rights of a bunch of people who have no knowledge of care to make the decision to close an excellent home, make elderly blind people homeless, put very caring staff out of work and through the trauma of watching our resident’s and their families in terrible distress.

It added: “St John’s Guild own at least four of the flats adjacent to St Raphael’s, if they cared in any degree for blind elderly people, surely they could sell one of them to install a larger lift if they wanted to comply with current regulations.”

St Albans MP Anne Main said: “It’s very sad. I’ve spoken to lots of people and they have all said it’s a fantastic local facility and it’s a shame they have decided to stop providing it.

“But you can’t force what is a business and charity to continue trading if they don’t want to. It’s a real shame they have put the business case before the concerns of local elderly and visually impaired people, it’s going to leave a large hole.

“If they had come to me and said we really want to keep doing this but have a myriad of red tape and bureaucracy to get through, I could have tried to help. But it’s quite clear it’s a hard line decision and they don’t want that help – and that’s the bottom line.”