Feature: Looking at services for the disabled in Prince Rupert part one

City council was told by a local resident that service providers weren’t listening to concerns of people in the community with disabilities.

When Prince Rupert city council was told by a local resident that service providers weren’t listening to the concerns of people living in the community with disabilities, the council decided it would try to get some of them addressed.

The council is currently investigating the possibility of either meeting with residents who depend on social services and service providers either together or separately to see what issues can be identified and what changes are can be made or need to be lobbied for.

The Prince Rupert Northern View talked to some of the most prominent social service providers in Prince Rupert about the idea of a meeting and what they believe the state of service delivery in the city and what needs to be changed. Most say they would gladly participate in a meeting between themselves and service users if one were set up by the City.

Alice Compagnon  is the director of Fairview Management, an organization dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities in Prince Rupert. Fairview helps its clients with finding work, getting the medical attention and medicines they need, finding a place to live and much more.

They currently help 35 people, but they can’t help anyone before they get a referral from Community Living BC (CLBC) which is part of the Ministry of Social Development and funds all of the service providers who help the disabled in BC.

About three years ago, CLBC had a permanent staff located in Prince Rupert, but that changed when the Ministry of Children and Families took over services and staff meant for helping disabled children. After that, CLBC was reorganized and was centralized into regional offices, the nearest one to Prince Rupert is in Terrace. A single staff member  now travels from Terrace to work in the Prince Rupert office two-and-a-half days a week.

“[Getting a referral] in this community is difficult. We have families calling us and asking ‘how can I get help?’ So we say ‘ call the office in the Ocean Centre’ and they do that and  they say it’s difficult to get anybody to talk to. That’s mostly because they’re not here, they’re here only twice a week,” says Compagnon.

When the Prince Rupert Northern View called the local CLBC employee to talk about operations in Prince Rupert, we were asked to talk to the Terrace office.

“What you got is exactly what people get in the community….Where before we used to have a social worker here and  they used to come down for a meeting to help plan for people. They don’t do that anymore because their office isn’t here. Now the service providers do the planning,” says Compagnon.

While Compagnon says she knows that the CLBC did not choose to have things set up the way they are (that was the Provincial Government), and that some of the concerns raised in council may be overstated, the fact that CLBC has no full-time staff in the city is a real drawback.

“I think it would be nice to have an office back here in Prince Rupert, because when we did have a worker assigned to people who would come in for meetings, they could resolve things face-to-face and it was more personal. It’s like going to a doctor, and if you have a different doctor every time no one really knows you and you just get fed up with having to explain things over-and-over again,” says Compagnon.

Pat Marshall is the manager of the CLBC branch in Terrace. She couldn’t give a ball-park estimate on how long it can take to get a referral from CLBC, saying that some will be quicker or take longer than other because they have to prioritize cases based on the level of need the person has for the services they’re trying to access.

“If we have somebody who we’ll say has lost their home; their apartment’s closing, they’ve been given notice for three days from now or some horrific thing, they’re  obviously going to receive priority over someone who wants to learn how to cook,” says Marshall.

“Obviously  if it’s a crisis, it will be responded to immediately. If it’s something like learning to cook it will be responded to as soon as a place becomes available in a program.”

Marshall also points out that the staff who were helping disabled who are under 19-years-old in Prince Rupert didn’t go anywhere, they just switched from CLBC to the Ministry of Children and Families. But ultimately the decision to have the current set up was a government one.

Both Marshall and Compagnon say that their organizations would gladly take part in a meeting between services providers like themselves and service users of one were set up by the city council.

For it’s part, the Provincial Government did announce last month that it will be pumping millions in new funding into CLBC after an internal audit and ministerial review were made of CLBC’s operations last year.

CLBC’s operating budget is being expanded by $18-million, $10-million more for day and employment programs, and $12-million for increased case-loads. But according to a representative from the Ministry of Social Development, it’s too early to says how this will specifically change CLBC’s operations in the northwest.

The reports resulted in 12 recommendations to improve services to the disabled in BC. While none of the recommendations call for more full-time staff in smaller communities,  they do call for a better system for tracking demand, wait times and delivery on service requests made to CLBC and other relevant government departments.

The Ministry points out that during the reviewing process deputy ministers from relevant departments such as Social Development and Finance got together to look into how services were being delivered and formed a temporary body called the Client Support Team as a way to gather feedback from service users.

One of the recommendations now that the reviews are over is to create a permanent appeals mechanism to replace the Client Support Team made up of experienced case workers from different government branches. If someone has an issue with the services they’ve been receiving they will be able to ask for a review of their case by the support team or its eventual replacement, to review their case from a cross-ministry perspective to see if alternatives in other government departments are available to them as well, not just CLBC.

Users are also able to call the Provincial Advocate for Service Quality who can try to address problems in service delivery from any governmental department as well.

Not all the services used by the needy are technically social services either. Michael Melia is the northwest director of Mental Health and Addictions for Northern Health.

Melia says that his department partners with many different community groups to make help available to the needy, including sending people to visit those who are living in Raffles Inn with help from the Salvation Army.

Someone in need of mental health or addiction help can access services through their doctor, at the hospital if they don’t have one, or even a call to their offices downtown or through the groups Melia’s department work with such ass the Salvation Army or the Friendship

House.

“We have a slogan in mental health: every door is the right door. It’s a vision that people will be able to be directed to a service that can support and help them  wherever they enter. That’s the ideal situation,” says Melia.

Mental Health also has life-skills workers that will act as advocates for patients, even talking to landlords to address “housing difficulties.”

Look for the conclusion of this feature next week in the Prince Rupert Northern View