Sgt in Charge Sharon Hoey with fellow Order of Malta volunteer Mary Shaw.

Voluntary group providing ‘life saving’ supports while homeless

A local charity that has clocked up more than 6,000 volunteer hours providing “life saving” supports to scores of local people during the pandemic has pleaded with the HSE to allow its teams to move in to a permanent home on grounds of St Loman’s Hospital.

The Mullingar unit of the Order of Malta has managed to provide a wide range of supports to the HSE and the community throughout the Covid-19 crisis, despite spending the first lockdown operating out of members’ homes as their current temporary base in Columb Barracks was out of bounds due to health restrictions.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, officer in charge Sergeant Sharon Hoey, said that the unit’s requirement for a fit-for-purpose base really hit home at the start of the pandemic.

“We had to move everything out of the barracks because we couldn’t get in. It was on lockdown. We had to store equipment in people’s houses. Medicines in houses. Our ambulances were outside. It was just a nightmare.

“We were doing life-saving transfers. There were people going radiotherapy, chemotherapy. We were going up and down to Dublin seven days a week. We had about 40 different patients going but it worked at over 500 appointments in a year – as well as doing pharmacy runs and helping out at the vaccines centres.

“We have also done standby with the HSE. We have transferred Covid patients to City West for the HSE,” she said.

With the help of Deputy Sorca Clarke, the unit managed to identify a building in the grounds of St Loman’s that Sgt Hoey says would be “ideal” for a permanent base. Deputy Clarke has contacted the HSE about the moving in to the building.

Sgt Hoey says that unless the unit finds a permanent home soon, she is fearful for its long-term future.

“We are homeless. We have spoke to the councillors we have been told there are no buildings in the vicinity we can use. We have a space in the barracks, the old garage. The roof’s fallen in. We can’t go upstairs. We have no toilet facilities. It has mould growing in it. We have no training facilities.

“We need somewhere of our own. If we don’t, we can’t train. We won’t be able to go out on duty. We won’t be able to help the community if we don’t have our own premises.

“We just want a home, where we can have everything and be able to train and not have to worry about begging people to let us use their premises. We are 20 years in Mullingar in September and we would like to have a home for that. It would be lovely,” she says.

Like many Order of Malta members, Sgt Hoey joined with no medical knowledge but is now a fully qualified EMT with a private company.

She now trains the unit’s 15 cadets – however, training has been sporadic recently due to the current situation.

Her fellow volunteer Mary Shaw is training to become an EMT. She says that it is vital for the wider community that the unit finds a permanent base.

“If we don’t get the help that we need, it is going to crumble. We are vital to the community of Mullingar. Our little cadets coming up are the EMTs and paramedics of the future.

“We are vital to the HSE and we really, really need help.”