THE closure of Carson House Care Centre, Stalybridge, has left a trail of misery after its operating company Regal County Limited went into voluntary liquidation.
The move, brought about by another critical Care Quality Commission report, saw 74 carers and staff lose their jobs, 35 residents forced to be re-homed and a mountain of unpaid bills to agencies that provided carers.
And the family of resident William Whittaker claim the upheaval of moving was a contributory factor in the death of the 79-year-old four days after he was forced to leave.
Staff weren’t paid for the last seven weeks that the home was open, causing untold issues with a number claiming they were in danger of losing their homes.
To highlight their plight, they staged a sit-in at the home, something that succeeded as it gained television coverage as well as in newspapers.
Heather Craine, home administrator, is calling for the law to be changed and the Government to introduce safeguards to prevent another case from happening.
Local councillors Jan Jackson and Adrian Pearce, in whose ward Carson House is, went along to lend their support and Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, was also monitoring events at the care centre that was housed in the former St George’s School and Sunday School, a landmark building in the town.
Cllr Jackson said: “The home was closed down because of its standards that were not up to scratch.
“Though it was run by a private provider, it was Tameside Council that had the responsibility to rehouse its 35 residents and pick up the pieces.
“Adrian and I went along to support the 74 carers and staff who had not been paid for seven weeks while thousands of pounds is also owed to agencies.”
A Tameside Council spokesperson said: “Carson House is privately owned and the owner – not the council – has responsibility for paying staff wages.
“Following the home receiving an inadequate Care Quality Commission rating, we made the decision not to place people there and took steps to move existing residents out.
“We held daily risk meetings and found alternative placements for all residents – we needed to do this quickly as the home manager informed us he didn’t have staffing levels to meet the needs of the people living there and also the owners had made the decision to close the home.
“We worked with families to support people to move out to alternative care homes and, although some residents were initially reluctant to leave, no one was moved against their will.
“While the home was operating we did everything possible to work with the owners to ensure there was a full staffing complement (sometimes having to bring in staff ourselves to ensure staffing was at safe levels), reduce risks and support residents.”
Mrs Craine, home administrator for Regal County who ran the home, explained all 74 members of staff had been served with redundancy notices and confirmed they had not been paid for seven weeks.
She added there had been cash-flow problems for the four previous months when staff had only been paid a percentage of their wage – between 70 and 85 – on time with the remainder later.
Mrs Caine, who has worked at the home for nine years, described the care at the home as “excellent” and claimed the CQC report didn’t portray the situation accurately.
She said: “In the original report the staff were slated as nobody knew the facts. The reason was that a lot of agency staff were used and when the agencies were not paid they left and another one took over. I know of one that is facing liquidation.
“It was reported to Tameside Council and things escalated and within two weeks all the residents had been removed.
“It was a good home with good staff and residents were begging to stay. They were in tears in the backs of cars as they were leaving.
“It has been devastating for both residents and staff.”
Carers and single parents Amee Bane, from Hyde, and Folashade Ijisane, from Shaw, both admitted they were under threat of losing their homes as they didn’t have money for rent after receiving no pay for seven weeks.
Senior carer Anna Holden said: “The longer it has gone on, the worse it has become and we are struggling to pay rent and buy food.
“I have never seen so many in debt. When you are in work that should not be the case as usually it is the other way round.”
She claimed to her knowledge bailiffs had turned up three times at the home to try and recover debts.
Staff also told of having to buy food with their own money because of the company’s financial difficulties, though they were always later reimbursed after submitting invoices.
Carson House was given an ‘inadequate’ rating by the CQC following three inspections in December and January with the report published on May 12.
David Hetherington Messenger was the current registered provider under the name Regal County Limited.
He said the decision made by commissioners (Tameside Council and Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group) to begin relocating residents only added to the financial difficulties and forced the subsequent closure of the care home.
Mr Hetherington Messenger blamed the loss of the building, which had been re-possessed by the bank, as being down to being miss-sold interest rate swops that has caused the collapse of his business that at one time owned 18 care home nationally.
Keith Lucas, from insolvency practitioners Lucas Johnson, explained Regal County Limited entered voluntary liquidation formally on October 9, though the process would have begun earlier when staff were told they were losing their jobs.
He explained Regal County Limited had liabilities of £177,000, of which £110,000 was owed to employees of the company. He added liabilities may increase if further claims are submitted.
Mr Lucas, who is uncertain as to the assets of the company, added staff who are owed wages will have to submit claims to the Government’s redundancy payment service.
He confirmed the building was not owned by Regal County, but had been reclaimed by the bank.
As part of the legal process, Lucas Johnson will be investigating the company and its directors while a report of its statement of affairs will be sent to Companies House.
MP Jonathan Reynolds said: “I have been very concerned about what I’ve heard from staff at Carson House.
“A care home should never be run in this way.
“The owner has let residents and staff down and this must never be allowed to happen again.”