Anger over council’s sale of homes for the elderly refuses to go away
By Bill Heaney
Two years and six months ago, just as The Democrat was getting off the ground, we raised the subject of concern about care homes.
Dumbarton had been blessed by some judicious forward thinking by our councillors on the old Dumbarton District Council and Strathclyde Region who had bequeathed us with a legacy of some nice care homes, modern establishments where the elderly would be well looked after within the community.
The policy was to have community care homes, places like Willox Park and Dalreoch House, where senior citizens would be accommodated in those parts of the town where they had lived and would be familiar with.
These homes were relatively small. Cosy and comfy. The residents would most probably know each other, some of them from their schooldays, and would meet up at meal times for breakfast or a cup of tea and a blether. If people had to end their life in a home then these homes were as good as any.
Sheltered housing, such as was built at Willox Park and allocated in the West Bridgend high flats, would accommodate the fitter older persons and they could stay there until they felt they would have to move into the home where kindly staff would keep an eye on them.
They often walked around the large garden and could dander around the block and visit the general store for their morning paper.
It was a civilised existence, very comfortable and very safe and much deserved by people who were part of a special generation who had fought in the 20th century wars and conflicts.
And had brought honour and respect to Dumbarton with their skills designing and building great ships in Denny’s Leven shipyard.
It was us, the ratepayers or council taxpayers, giving something back. It was the right and proper thing to do and we felt good about that. It was something to be celebrated.
Dumbarton had moved on for the better. When, in the ‘Fifties and early ‘Sixties, we were able to demolish the Poorhouse in Townend Road and replace it with homes such as Langcraigs at Gooseholm, Dalreoch House and Crannog Cottage at Milton.
Everything changes, but few people want to see changes unless they are widely recognised as being for the good of the community in which they live and work.
And it did not seem to me that this was happening when I heard that the old folk’s houses which had been built into the community were being sold off and the residents were being transferred to Crosslet House, where a new care home was under construction.
This was to be built at a cost of £10 million which would have to be borrowed and would place the new generation coming through in debt for 30 years or more. The bill at the end of the day would amount to many, many £ millions when the bank interest was taken into account.
And the 21st century councillors, led by the SNP administration, would bank the money from the sale of the community homes and spend it on projects they had chosen themselves. These would earn them votes and keep them in power.
But the sale of Langcraigs stuck in my throat. My mother and her sister had spent their last days there. It was comfortable and well-run and the manager, Dumbarton woman, Ann Brennan, and her staff were first class.
Something didn’t chime however. The cash-strapped SNP council, who were forever putting the poor mouth on it and telling us how stretched they were moneywise, turned down the highest offer of £1.2 million.
And refused to consider the site for social housing, which was and is still badly needed in West Dunbartonshire.
The reason given for this was that there would be a smooth takeover by a company calle Meallmore Limited, who already owned a number of homes in the Highlands.
They would insure it and secure it quickly insured and secured and would save the Council money.
It didn’t work out like that.
Meallmore, who paid £225,000 less than the highest bidder, delayed for a time before implementing the plan which wasn’t the same as they had placed before the council committee.
Councillors at the Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development Committee were told that buyers had been secured for Dalreoch House and Willox Park, both in Dumbarton, and the land which used to house the Auchentoshan Day Care Centre in Clydebank.
Turnberry Homes want to purchase Dalreoch, which has been uninhabited since June 2017 after residents moved to the new Crosslet House care home.
They will seek to build a traditional residential development made up of 18 two-storey homes on the land.
Willox Park Care Home was also earmarked as surplus and left empty when residents moved into Crosslet House last year.
The Council say new buyer, HB Villages, wants to build a specialised supported housing scheme in the area for adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities.
The Council have not disclosed, however what will happen to the existing sheltered housing around Willox Park, which is in the Barloan district of the town.
The two care homes now being sold are in addition to the Langcraigs residential home and daycare centre at Gooseholm, Dumbarton, which was closed and sold off for around £900,000.
Councillor Iain McLaren, Convener of Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “It is great to see that these three sites, which were unused by the Council and were surplus to requirements, have the potential to be brought back to life again in ways that will improve the lives of our residents.”
One wonders if he thinks that now, following the unacceptable number of deaths at Crosslet and he and his colleagues paid no attention to the warning that the bigger the home the higher the number of deaths would be in a crisis.
However, Cllr McLaren had nothing to say, even when pressed, about the Langcraigs sale when The Democrat challenged him on the suitability of the new owners, whose track record in elderly care made frightening reading.
Cllr McLaren, pictured left, refused point blank to comment at the time – and he is now part of the ban and boycott of The Democrat by the SNP, Conservative, Independent coalition which runs the council.
The Democrat asked at the time it was sold off if West Dunbartonshire Council and the Health and Social Care Partnership had done any research into the background of the care home company that has offered £1 million for it, but we didn’t get an answer.
Community Party councillor Jim Bollan, pictured right, said then: “Quite apart from the SNP Council passing up the opportunity to use this site to build council homes on, it is astonishing that the Health & Social Care Partnership quango have approved this company, Meallmore, as being fit a proper to take care of elderly residents.
“A look at their record in the care field is quite disturbing. A 91-year- old resident was attacked by another resident in a Meallmore home in Inverness, receiving nine injuries to their head.
“A 32-year-old with mental health issues lay dead for up to a week in their flat while being cared for by Meallmore care staff. A resident with Parkinson’s was humiliated and bullied by staff at a residential home in Aberdeen.
“How the H&SCP can approve this organisation to take care of some of our most vulnerable elderly resident’s beggars belief. This decision to sell this land to this company needs reviewed, before legal documents are signed.”
All three former care homes closed by the council have been replaced by Crosslet House, which is situated up in the hills behind the timber houses off the busy A82 Glasgow-Loch Lomondside road, where there have been road crossing problems which should surely have been anticipated.
Cllr Bollan, who labelled the proposed £1 million sale of Langcraigs as “scandalous”, criticised the Council for centralising services, allowing the private care sector to move in and “make a profit from the care of our elderly”.
Council officers recommended approval of the Langcraigs sale. The reason given was that there is still a requirement for more care home beds locally, which begs the question why the Council did not take account of this when they built Crosslet House.
Cllr Bollan said: “This proposal by the health and social care partnership stinks to high heaven and lays bare the need for the two 90-bed care homes being built by the council.
“Once more people have been duped into believing the argument that big is better and the centralisation of care services for the elderly is good for them, only for it to be thrown back in their face by allowing the private care sector to take over Langcraigs and make a profit from the care of our elderly. Scandalous.”
The picture on the left shows a woman resident of a Meallmore home in Inverness whose relatives complained when she was left alone and had a fall in the toilet.
Crosslet House, which replaces Willox Park and Dalreoch House, boasts a modern cinema room, outdoor terrace, internet rooms, gardens, hair salon and nail bar, provides 84 beds for elderly residents, particularly those with dementia.
The council officials’ report to committee stated: “The health and social care partnership consider that there is sufficient demand in the area for a further care home, and of the three currently closing, Langcraigs presents the best opportunity to permit refurbishment and expansion.”
The council started marketing Langcraigs in March last year, setting a closing date in mid-June. Two offers were received and the £975,000 bid by Meallmore, who are proposing a 32-bed facility with single bed en-suite units, was identified as the preferred option.
The other bid was made by a residential developer for £1.02 million. The report says Meallmore’s terms were more agreeable due to an early entry date as the council remain liable for maintenance, security and insurance of the site as well as non-domestic rates while the building lies empty.”
Langcraigs, if you do the math, which was sold by the Council for £225,000 less than the highest offer, was razed to the ground and has now been rebuilt from the floor up, but so far as we know hasn’t opened yet. One wonders where things will go from here.