Sunday, November 14, 2010

Canadian agency keeps quiet about why it closed 19 group homes

From the Victoria Times Colonist:

VICTORIA, Canada — The B.C. Crown agency that provides services to the developmentally disabled has closed at least 19 group homes across the province this year, provincial government documents show.

But Community Living B.C. refuses to say where those homes were or who operated them, citing privacy rules and contractual obligations.

The agency posted the numbers on a government website in a "for the record" response to mounting criticism of the group home closures by a coalition of advocacy and union organizations.

"Group homes where people with developmental disabilities live are not being arbitrarily closed, contrary to recent claims made through the media," the agency said. "Community Living British Columbia is providing opportunities for people seeking greater independence and inclusion in the community."

The document states that the agency closed 19 group homes for 48 disabled people, who now live in other residential settings. There are 787 group homes in B.C. with approximately 2,500 residents, CLBC says.

The Victoria Times Colonist asked for more details on the closures, including the towns and cities where the homes were located, and who operated them. But the agency said it was unable to provide the information "due to contractual agreements with service providers, and to protect the privacy of the individuals and families we support."

Instead, Paul Sibley, director of CLBC's Vancouver Coastal and North regions, identified the general areas in which the homes closed, including two on Vancouver Island. The Simon Fraser community living area had the most closures with seven, followed by Vancouver Coastal and Surrey/Delta with three each.

Sibley said six homes closed from April to June, one in July, four in August and eight in September. More homes may have closed since then, he said.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, which represents group home workers, says CLBC is keeping the locations secret to avoid the kind of public backlash that saved a group home from closing in Powell River, B.C., earlier this year.

"It was kind of a successful push-back and I think now they're being much more stealthy about how they're doing it," said James Cavalluzzo, who chairs the union's community social services section.

The union and some families say the closures are being carried out to save money, and that some people are being forced to move against their wishes.

CLBC denies forcing people to move. It said the homes are closing because of new and better ways to support people in the community.

"We have lots of those people who are living in group homes right now that actually can live much more independently," Sibley said. "It doesn't mean that we don't need group homes, because we do. We're never going to shut down all the group homes."

CLBC does save money by moving people into other living arrangements, such as home-sharing, in which a developmentally disabled person lives with a caregiver. Former social development minister Rich Coleman told the legislature that a group home costs about $100,000 per client to operate annually, while semi-independent living might cost only $40,000.

Coleman said CLBC is looking to find $22 million in savings this year that it can use to help those waiting for service.

"If somebody doesn't need to live in a group home and can live in another type of option that totally meets their needs, and it happens to be more cost-effective and we're able to support two more people because of that, that just makes good sense," Sibley said.

"This year we've had a stronger focus on (closing homes), because we're at a point where we know that there are some inequities across the system. And we do need to be equitable in terms of making dollars available to as many people who qualify for services and are requesting those services."

The coalition of unions and advocates for the disabled says the speed at which homes are closing warrants an independent review. Jane Holland, B.C.'s advocate for service quality, rejected the groups' request, saying it falls outside her role of helping adults with developmental disabilities obtain access to available supports and services.