Devoted wife makes a tearful plea to Kirklees Council to save her husband’s care home in Heckmondwike
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A tearful Helen Plaskitt told the full council meeting on October 18 how her husband John was diagnosed with early-onset dementia aged 57 and now resides at Claremont House, Heckmondwike, where he has lived for almost two years.
Claremont House is one of the two care homes for people with dementia that has been earmarked for closure by the council. The other is Castle Grange in Huddersfield.
John was described as someone who “always gave back to his community” and is a father and former teacher who taught geography and PE at schools in Almondbury, Shelley and Mirfield. He also played rugby for Emley Moor and coached for Huddersfield under 16s in his younger days.
Helen said: “When John was originally diagnosed with early onset dementia at age 57, he bravely took me around nearly 20 different care homes, knowing through experience what was likely to be coming our way, desperately trying to prepare me.
“Of all the homes we visited, Claremont was his choice. The state of some of the others we visited was heart-breaking.
"By the end of our tour, we were both extremely frightened. Only Claremont and the staff there were able to reassure us.
“He’s my husband, a father to two boys and step-father to two others. He’s loved by me, my family and we desperately miss everything that dementia stole from us and is continuing to steal from us.
“Moving John to Claremont nearly destroyed me. I cried myself to sleep for three months and I noticed John’s anxiety still, every time I visited him and every time I tried to leave him.
“In that first three months he stopped talking, he paced, he showed me – the person who knows him best – the toll that this change had wrought upon him.
"And I, his wife, the person that loved him, was guilt ridden at what I’d done.
“But after this things settled. Slowly, slowly and emerging from what was a wreckage – we both found ourselves – our new selves.
“Today, I visit John two or three times a week. I can take him out now. I take him on day trips, I take him on regular outings to the pub for a pint.
“We visited Scarborough in the summer to watch Yorkshire play Kent. Importantly, what makes it possible for me to do that is he’s always, always happy to go home. His home – Claremont.
“Most weeks we go to our home in Birstall. He always wants to get up after he’s had his tea and cake and go back to Claremont. Claremont is his home now.
“His anxiety has gone and so has mine. This is because of the consistent high levels of care that he receives each day at Claremont. The familiarity, the routines, the regular staff faces who all know him so well.
“It’s amazing care and it embodies everything about Claremont. And I am so proud that my husband is cared for by the local authority with such high standards. Such high standards.
“Unfortunately I will never get back, he will never get back what we lost moving him from home to Claremont. That transition, that change, those first few months – they were devastating to us, to us both. His voice has gone, it’s gone forever.”
Helen highlighted that a previous council report which proposed the closure mentions “short-term negative effects” that the closure could have on residents, families and staff.
She asked the council to share their assessment on the impacts of the proposed closures and explained that she had witnessed both long and short-term effects, with John’s speech loss being permanent.
She continued: “I visit my husband two to four times a week and it’s manageable because it is a ten minute drive from my home – from Birstall to Heckmondwike.
“In the report to cabinet, it states that there may be financial implications in relation to travel costs. It’s not only financial implications that need to be considered in relation to change of location, but distance.
“This isn’t a swimming pool, I’m sorry, this is a life, it’s distance and time as this determines how frequently we can visit our loved ones. This impacts the health of both residents and our families.
"We are all aware of how rapidly memory deteriorates if familiar faces and routines are not kept up and seen with dementia sufferers.”
Helen said as she wept: “I am terrified for the day my husband forgets me. Don’t hasten this by moving him away from me or by changing his home again.
“What accountability are you willing to take for the decline of my husband’s health? And Agnes’ and Dorothy’s and Barbara’s and Susan’s – my husband’s friends. His new family. Carol’s, Michael’s.
“I absolutely appreciate the financial difficulties you are under. I’m a card-holding Labour Party member but please, find another way.
“The impact of closure for residents and their families – the husbands, the wives, the daughters, the sons, the grandchildren – it’s going to be immense.”
Helen’s moving deputation received a standing ovation from councillors and members of the public.
After taking a few moments so Helen could regain composure, Coun Jackie Ramsay, cabinet member for health and social care, said: “I think we could all feel the pain that you described of losing the John that you knew to this terrible disease.
"It’s especially sad when he and you are so young and I’m sure I’m not the only one who could feel your grief as you spoke so bravely.”
Coun Ramsay said the council wishes to fully engage with families during the consultation process which went live just over a week ago. The consultation will span 12 weeks and meetings are being held with those affected on Monday and Tuesday.
She added: “I can’t not mention why we’re having to look at such difficult choices. I fully appreciate that council finances are absolutely not a priority for you or your families at this particular time but unfortunately they have to be for us.”
The councillor spoke of the rising demand for social care as the population ages and blamed the council’s budget gap on underfunding from the Conservative government.
At present, the council is looking to make a £47m saving within the current financial year in order to balance its budget and avoid declaring effective bankruptcy.
Aside from the proposed care home closures, at least three leisure centres have been earmarked to be shut, along with Cleckheaton Town Hall.
On top of this, up to 750 members of the council’s workforce are to be made redundant over the coming months.