Government support for those who care for the mentally disabled in Manitoba has dropped to a critical level, according to local families.
With a renewed mandate, Community Living Brandon — an advocacy group for those with intellectual disabilities — has put a spotlight on the low wages of support workers.
“The issue of wages has been an issue for a number of years and the wages in place right now are clearly inadequate,” said the group’s president, Debby Dandy.
According to the group, the starting wage for a support staff in a residential or day program is as low as $10.75 per hour with an average of $12.06 per hour.
As a result, Dandy said, agencies that provide care to some of Manitoba’s most vulnerable people have not been able to recruit and retain staff.
Compared to senior care providers and day-care workers, Dandy said wages are “right at the bottom of the pay scale.”
“You have a population that hasn’t been able to speak up for themselves, they don’t have a voice,” she said.
“This is a group of people that can contribute to society and want to participate in the community.
“It’s an issue of injustice.”
It’s clear there’s a high demand for support workers across Manitoba with dozens of want ads out in many regions. The government itself is heavily promoting the positions online as a career choice.
“There are families frightened about the risk to adults who are in the system who are receiving complex medical care, typically provided by health-care aides, by staff who are being paid these low wages.”
For families, care is dwindling as a result of the industry’s inability to attract staff.
Tracy Moore, a 47-year-old who suffers from autism, is non-verbal and requires around-the-clock support. For 15 years, Moore lived in residence by herself outside Brandon with the help of care workers. But because the agency providing the care was forced to cut services, she now lives in a home with three other vulnerable people.
“When there’s more people, there’s more behaviour problems,” said her sister Caroline Gill, adding the needs of the individuals could be vastly different.
And the revolving door of support workers continues to turn, she said, adding confusion and stress to her sister’s life.
“There could be so many people going into one home and it confuses the client because they never know who’s coming,” she said.
After Gill’s sister moved out of the now-shuttered Ninette Sanatorium close to 15 years ago when Gill said funding was adequate, she said she’s seen a steady decline in government support.
“It was good for a while, they had the funding and they had everything in place,” she said. “Gradually over year the years, they’ve cut, cut, cut.”
“They’re closing residences because of staff shortages, and it’s not the agencies’ fault, they are good people and they are doing the best they can.”
Meanwhile, Community Living Brandon has attempted to mobilize local families into pushing the government to increase funding to agencies so they can offer competitive wages.
“We feel that there must be a change to the funding model to make it just and fair, to create a stable staffing structure for our vulnerable family members and friends,” read an open letter from the group.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 15, 2013