Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Government dragging feet on problems in disabled services

The B.C. government is being remarkably laid back about problems in its big experiment to change the way services are delivered to some 20,000 disabled people in the province.
This is hugely important to the people who need the services - adults and children with mental disabilities and their families. They’re counting on Community Living BC, the new Crown corporation taking on the responsibility.
The government has already made a mess of the changeover once, pulling the plug once on the whole thing amid scandal and mismanagement in 2004.
Now the agency is in its first full year of operation and serious new problems are emerging. Thousands of people are piling up on waiting lists. Exhausted parents - some in their 70s - are being told there’s no help available for their mentally disabled children. A leading advocacy group warns fears people are being pushed from group homes into the community without adequate support in a bid to cut costs.
And the board of Community Living BC - appointed by the government - says it doesn’t have enough money to provide the services that people need. More than 3,000 adults are on waiting lists. (The agency doesn’t yet keep track of the number of children not getting needed services.) The agency figures it is short $45 million this year and another $27 million over the next two years.
It sounds bad. These are children and adults who need help, people with significant mental disabilities. They can not fend for themselves and need support ranging from intensive, semi-institutional care to help living in the community. Families are looking for assistance in coping with the challenge of caring for a 50-year-old son with a five-year-old’s mental abilities.
About 10,000 adults and 8,000 children are counting on Community Living BC. The real need is probably greater. It’s important to get this right.
But Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen is not talking like a man in a big hurry to sort out the problems, which the Community Living board raised more than two months ago. Christensen has questioned whether the board has managed the money it receives from government properly.
But he hasn’t got answers to the question and is in no hurry to address the current $45-million shortfall. The agency’s money problems will be considered over the next few months, he says, as part of preparations for next year’s budget.
This is what many people feared would happen.
The theory was that Community Living BC would offer families and the mentally disabled a bigger role in figuring out how services should be delivered. The main advocates were families whose wanted to be be able to develop individualized care plans for their children, with the agency signing off and providing funding.
It’s a good vision in many ways. But there are risks, especially for disabled people who don’t have family members to advocate for them and may be squeezed out of the picture.
The biggest fear was that the government would use the change to avoid responsibility for providing adequate care. That was a special concern because demand and costs are likely to increase.
Community Living BC’s service plan - approved by the government - notes that population growth and increased awareness will drive demand. "Another significant factor is the aging of individuals with disabilities and their families that care for them, which leads to more complex needs," the authority warns.
And Christensen says demand is increasing at about three per cent a year. But funding for services disabled adults is slated to increase by less than two per cent a year in each of the next two years. (It did go up by five per cent annually in the last two years.)
The government’s response to the latest problems suggest the fears are justified. Whether the difficulties in delivering services stem from in an inadequate budget or management missteps, they need to be addressed now.
Footnote: Advocacy groups say funding has lagged far behind demand. The BC Association for Community Living says ministry documents report the 2002/3 budget for adult community living was $554 million. Christensen says the current budget is $550 million. That leaves the agency coping with many more families with less money than it had four years ago.[


Anonymous said...

Just what do expect from the Gordon Campbell government? Their track record provides ample proof that simply don't care about the kind of people Community Living was supposed to help. It is all about cost cutting, shifting responsibility, and avoiding FOI legislation. Next will come an appointed board of friendlies and a gag order. When are the people of BC going to wake up and realize that their continued support of these heartless and shameless right wing Liberal ideologues is the same as approval for the desperate situations of so many of their neighbours. Please don't say "Ya but the economy is great". The desperation and suffering of those that are outside looking in is the same as if the economy was ten times as great.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with the first poster. Campbell and Co. are mostly from little business background. His clothing store shut down, his connections to a Hotel directly across from the BC bubble got into deep finanical problems. So maybe their business sence isn't that hot. Not that much different than the Socreds were. Their speciality was used cars. People need social services. They arn't getting what was advertised.
Just yesterday a story was in the local paper about a couple in their mid eighties. She was in a so called Care home. Her mind was slipping, the food was terrible and the monthly cost was over 1,000 dollars for one frail woman. Concerns raised got nowhere. The husmabd, also frial took her home. She perked up a lot and her mind allowed her to play Scrabble and other things. Downside is how long can this man manage to handle the house and a ill wife. This may not be what Community Living is all about, but it sure shows us that the Most Open and all that jazz government simply likes to write off large groups. It's awfully low minded to ignore the conditions of people who can't survive on their own. Gordon needs the money for their employed friends, and of course the big show in 2010. BC , where are going with this collection of ruthless people?

Anonymous said...

"A leading advocacy group warns fears people are being pushed from group homes into the community without adequate support in a bid to cut costs. " (Paul, it would be nice if you could post the group's name.)

What CLBC is doing is offering the group home residents a 'blue sky' scenerio to entice the residents out of the group homes and into a private care program. It turns out that many staff in the group homes are taking a resident or two home.

CLBC should NOT be depopulating the group homes (CLBC's "Residential Options Project" plans to talk to every group home resident by the end of March 2007), but instead CLBC should at least be first offering private care to the youth who are legally becoming adults and the adults whose families can no support them before they rip people out of established homes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anonymous, the group was Family Net BC.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about this, Paul. Don't forget that one of the reasons for the current funding crunch is that with an unknown number (but many) people already on waitlists, the current government cut the overall budget for this Ministry and for Community Living significantly in 2003 and 2004. Endless restructuring has diverted tens of millions more from direct services in the past five years.

The original promise of restructuring and creating CLBC and offering individualized funding when this was all proposed back in 2001 by Doug Walls and others was that it was all supposed to cut costs significantly (20% savings, to be exact), thus allowing the BC Liberals to cut budgets and still address the waitlists.

Of course, it was never a credible promise, simply a good excuse to offload responsibility onto families and local communities, as advocates like BC FamilyNet pointed out many times over the last several years. And thus we find ourselves where we are today

Anon, FamilyNet's concerns are posted on its website at www.bcfamilynet.org

It needs to be very clear to the Minister and Cabinet that they are responsible for these failures and can't simply dodge it by blaming CLBC, any more than they could duck blame in the old days by blaming Ministry bureaucrats. They approved the plans every step of the way, they set the budget, they ignored their own experts' advice, they appointed all the CLBC leadership, etc.