Two Revelstoke residents who provide home care to developmentally disabled adults say controversies in Victoria surrounding Community Living B.C. definitely have a local connection, including the recent closure of one of three group homes here.
The board of directors of Community Living B.C. (CLBC) fired CEO Rick Mowles on Oct. 14, after a series of controversies including the announced closure of a work program for developmentally disabled people at a recycling facility in Maple Ridge. CLBC has been phasing out some group homes as facilities and residents have aged, moving to home-share arrangements with contracted caregivers.
NDP MLAs called in the legislature on Oct. 17 for an outside review of Community Living B.C., the agency responsible for developmentally disabled people once they are adults. B.C. Liberal MLA Randy Hawes rejected the NDP motion as “too simplistic,” but said his constituents need more help than they are getting.
“There are people who have looked after their kids forever, and they’re aging out,” Hawes told reporters after an emotional debate in the legislature. “They’re 80 years old with 50- and 60-year-old children who need to have some service, and we never knew they existed.”
Revelstoke resident Andrea Lawson is one of those contracted caregivers, known as a “home share provider.” She provides full-time care for a severely developmentally disabled young adult.
On some weekdays, she takes her client to a day program, providing her with a break from 24-hour care, which includes intensive monitoring of a client prone to injury.
In the past months, a group home located on 5th Street in Southside was closed and all services being provided there were relocated, primarily to another group home on 8th Street. This meant the day program was also relocated. Lawson says this has been very disruptive for her client. “Those kind of changes are huge for her in her life.”
The new conditions are cramped and inadequate, in her opinion. The day program is now co-mingled with administrative offices in a facility that also serves as a residential group home. “Now she’s having her day program out of someone’s home.”
For Lawson, the loss of the peaceful and appropriate environment has been disruptive. Her client is in constant danger of injuring herself, and she says the new environment means the loss of a degree of daytime respite for both of them.
“For her, she has no place she can go.” Lawson felt she had to speak on behalf of a client who can’t speak for herself.
Lynn Middleton is the Director of Regional Operations (Interior) for Community Living B.C. and is based in Kelowna. She says the closure and sale of the 5th Street facility was prompted because it was not being used for residential purposes. A city fire inspection uncovered this and building owner Housing BC stepped in and said it needed to go because it was designated for residential care, not day programs and administrative support services.
Middleton says the changes are part of the CLBC mandate, which includes the concept of the “community living movement” that seeks to shift developmentally disabled individuals away from institutionalized group homes to home share providers where possible. “People with developmental disabilities are people first,” she said. “That partnership is about the whole community.” To some extent, a group home free of residents is a measure of success.
Middleton said like all government-funded organizations, they have budget constraints and are not always able to respond to all service requests. For example, they have many more requests for day programs for developmentally disabled adults than they can provide. While they prioritize requests that are health or safety concerns, other clients may go with fewer weekday day program slots than they’d like.
Critics: Government needs to review funding and operations models at CLBC
Community Connections Revelstoke Society executive director Gayle Morgan said in the instance of the 5th Street group home closure, they’re trying to move forward given the circumstances. “It is not ideal, but it works,” she said of the new 8th Street day program location.
She notes CLBC is the biggest funding provider for Community Connections (about $1.1 million annually) and that they experienced a wave of cutbacks about 18 months ago. A promised full-time CLBC representative for Revelstoke was reduced to part-time, then eliminated altogether. She is concerned about a next wave of cuts. When asked, CLBC Interior representative Middleton denied any future cuts were planned.
For Morgan, although efficiency in the system can be improved, the issue boils down to inadequate funding at the provincial level. “We are looking at difficult financial times, and I’m very cognizant of that. And there probably are efficiencies that could be made within the service delivery model,” she said. “But you’re looking at an incredibly vulnerable population of people who require a certain level of service to have a basic quality of life. CLBC as a whole is under-funded, so unless the province is willing to actually [provide] CLBC with adequate funding, I am not sure what can be done.”
She continued: “I think as a community and as a culture, it’s up to us – people who can and do have a voice – to really make sure that we’re protecting and advocating for the gains that have been made over the past 50 years for people with disabilities,” Morgan said. “And there have been significant gains in terms of community inclusion, and understanding that people with disabilities are vital, important members of our communities, and I would hate to see that the monetary difficulties that CLBC is having impact all of those gains that [would lead to] a degraded quality of life, or lack of opportunity, or lack of citizenship in our community. That’s my biggest fear.”
For Revelstoke home share provider Tammy Gibeault, a lack of support and funding has already meant a former client had to be relocated from Revelstoke. The former Community Connections employee says a former mature developmentally-disabled adult client dealing with an emotional crisis had to be relocated to Salmon Arm because of a lack of services here in Revelstoke. “The top of his list was to be in Revelstoke,” she says.
Gibeault sub-contracts through a contractor based in Armstrong, who contracts through CLBC. As a front-line worker, she wonders if too much government funding is winding up in the hands of an extra layer of private-sector middlemen, and not trickling down to the care providers like herself. “I just don’t understand, for the life of me, why so much in wages has to be paid to support 13,500 people,” she said.
She said this included inappropriate compensation for CLBC senior management and staff. “$240,000 a year plus bonuses?” she exclaims.
Last week, news that CLBC senior executives and staff had been receiving performance bonuses caused a stir. Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux announced that the bonus system would come to an end, saying it was “not appropriate,” and also announced a toll-free number families could call if they feel their current needs aren’t being addressed (1-877-660-2522.)
Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald (NDP) noted even government MLAs were breaking ranks on the issue last week. He repeated Opposition calls for an external review of the situation. For him, the issue is clear: CLBC is under-funded and the organization is trying to save money through reorganization, and falling well short.
“It’s wrong,” Macdonald said, adding political representatives like himself would be “inhuman” to hear the cases of hardships and not be affected by them. “It is a serious crisis for [the government] politically. They have to find a fix.”
~with notes from Tom Fletcher/Black Press
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