Distressed teenager slipped through hospital crisis unit twice

LIMERICK abuse survivor and founder of Survivors Support Anonymous, Leona O’Callaghan is one of the people organising events, including a work walk-out for International Women’s Day.
Haven Hub volunteer Leona O'Callaghan. Pic: Cian Reinhardt

by Bernie English

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A TEENAGE runaway with mental health problems, who was found on two occasions by search parties in Limerick, was allowed slip through the crisis intervention unit at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) to go on the run for a third time.

Leona O’Callaghan, one of the founders of the Haven Hub nighttime support facility for people in distress in the city, has written to Dr John O’Mahony, who is in charge of the HSE Midwest Suicide Prevention team, complaining that the crisis intervention mechanisms failed the distressed teenager.

The alarm was raised last Friday night by the family of the boy who went missing while staying in the city.

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“Every search team, both land and water-based, came out and eventually he was found and taken by ambulance to be seen by the crisis intervention team in the emergency department at UHL,” Ms O’Callaghan told the Limerick Post.

“I called the hospital and explained that he was likely to try to take off again. He had two broken teeth and blood on his face from an incident but they said they would have security keep an eye on him,” she said.

He was brought back by gardaí on that occasion but went missing again a short time later.

“When I called back again, he had gone missing. We called out the search teams again and he was found after spending the night at the side of the road in Parteen, wrapped only in a hospital blanket. This was despite us warning the emergency department staff that he was vulnerable and at risk,” she told the Limerick Post.

The young man was again brought back to the hospital, where Ms O’Callaghan pleaded with staff for a guarantee “that he would be watched and assessed”.

They asked us to leave and when I said I wouldn’t go until I got that assurance, they first called security and then the gardaí.

“I wasn’t moving. We lost people before when they were let out in a distressed state and this boy had already warned his family he was heading for the river.

“The gardaí backed us up and eventually, we got an assurance that he would be supervised until Tusla, who had previously been involved in his case, could be contacted to help him.”

In her letter to Dr O’Mahony, Ms O’Callaghan wrote: “Why are volunteers left to watch over distressed people at the risk of getting arrested in ensuring that HSE take their own advice?

“Why did your team not assess this boy’s risk after seeing he was a missing person? Why was he left alone? When we tried to get assurances that he would not be left alone for the third time, why did your team respond by trying to remove us and have us arrested?

“Why is this a fight and a stand-off instead of simply safeguarding young and vulnerable people? Why have search teams to spend hours and nights searching for vulnerable people after they are discharged or permitted to be leave in their own care without contacting the emergency services that brought them to ye in the first place,” she asked.

A spokesperson for the HSE said they do not comment on individual cases.