Alberta moves in the right direction for services for disabled people but still has a long way to go: workers
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON – One year after 1,000 disabled Albertans stormed the legislature over plans to overhaul service delivery, the changes are almost complete and front-line workers say the province is “moving in the right direction,” but still has a long way to go.
In an annual report released Monday, the department of Human Services says the main components of the changes to the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program are either complete or well underway.
“The majority of service providers have signed on to outcome-based contracting, which means people will have the opportunity to make a plan based on their needs and their goals,” disability services minister Naresh Bhardwaj said. “Everything we’re doing is based on the outcomes for the individual.”
The province has also replaced independent PDD boards with regional delivery governed by the ministry, which ensures service is consistent across the province.
“Family Supports for Children with Disabilities and PDD have come under PDD to provide a seamless service for individuals — one disability approach from (age) zero to 99,” Bhardwaj said.
In addition, the province has started recruiting people to sit on Family and Community Engagement Councils, which will offer advice and make recommendations on community and social issues related to Albertans with disabilities.
The ministry has received roughly 700 applications for board position and has interviewed about 260 candidates; the rosters should be released by the end of the year.
“After the rallies and the near-riot on the steps of the legislature … government really needed to step back,” said Tim Bear, past president of the Alberta Disability Workers’ Association and director of the St. Paul Abilities Network. “From a political point of view they had the right idea, but it was the application of that idea.”
He said the new system “theoretically” allows agencies the flexibility to fund the kind of supports that are necessary to move people through a spectrum of supports, to the point where they are as independent as they can reasonably be.
“That’s a very good thing; I’m happy about it, we’re excited about it. But the devil is in the details.”
He said front-line service providers continue to have concerns about the controversial Supports Intensity Scale, an interview and assessment tool used to determine a person’s needs.
“You can’t just use one tool to assess someone’s need,” Bear said.
Bev Matthiessen of the Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities is hopeful the changes will help to support those who don’t qualify for PDD, but who can’t get a job, either.
“There are a lot of people falling through the cracks,” she said. “I believe that they’re moving in the right direction — we want to see the people who have services maintain them, and we would like to see other people be included.
“I don’t want to take away from one, to give to the other.”
Bruce Uditsky of the Alberta Association for Community Living said the goal of supports should be to see real improvements in peoples’ lives, from employment to friendships.
“When you look at those measures, there is some growth definitely in those areas,” Uditsky said. “We are seeing some gains in employment, expansions of opportunities to continue education, but they’re small and limited.
“Government is catching up. … Families have wanted their sons and daughters to have better lives for a long time; they haven’t been waiting for government to start signing outcomes-based contracts.
“As a parent, I’ve always had an outcomes-based contract.”
Editor’s note: Corrects spelling of Matthiessen