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Mary (83) forced to sleep on couch

A Mullingar pensioner who has been advised by her doctor not to climb stairs due to her bad heart has spoken of her anger at being denied a grant to convert her garage into a bedroom.

Mary (not her real name), 83, has struggled to climb the stairs of her Mullingar home since she suffered a heart attack early last year that left her in intensive care for almost a month.

“If I have a bad night wheezing and I am gasping for breath, I just lie on the couch. My doctor advised me not to attempt the stairs, to avoid them at any cost. I am on eight tablets a day. I had a stent put in to let air into the heart.”

Eager to convert her garage into a bedroom, Mary applied for a housing grant from Westmeath County Council but was told that the funding was not available. She was also told that funding may be available for a stairlift, but Mary says it’s “no good” to her.

“Living alone you couldn’t have a stairlift, you could break your neck. You need someone with you for that, they are a living danger. I want to be on the ground floor and not to have to travel up and down stairs... That was an insult (offering funding for a stair lift). Someone of my age, with a heart condition, I ask you.”

The pensioner says that despite getting her doctor to outline her medical problems, she was asked for a report from an occupational therapist (OT), which is part of new government guidelines.

“That’s what hurt me so much, that this OT was looked for, when my doctor’s word wasn’t taken – a man that looked after me so well. It made very little of a medical man that someone in the council or government want this OT’s report.”

Mary says that she is angry that the government is making it harder for pensioners such as her to live independently by cutting funding for housing grants.

“I’m quite prepared to contribute towards the cost. To think I worked so hard all my life and I can’t get anything. There is something wrong somewhere.”

Cllr Avril Whitney, who has been making representations for Mary, says the government is targeting the most vulnerable.

“An occupational therapist’s report is now a compulsory part of the housing aid for the elderly and for people with disabilities. While I appreciate this is no major issue for applicants already attending an occupational therapist, it is causing great stress for those who are not already seeing one.

“The waiting list for an appointment with a public OT is long, causing incomplete applications to be put on hold indefinitely. Applicants may appoint an OT in a private capacity at a substantial cost which can be recouped, if and only if, the grant is successful.

“Another problem applicants in Westmeath are facing is that there are few occupational therapists operating privately who are able to facilitate this request in this area. Ultimately the government has once again placed an additional expense and grievance on the most vulnerable in our society.”