WINNIPEG — Homes for people with mental disabilities are closing in rural Manitoba because community agencies can’t recruit staff on funding provided by the province, the agencies say.
Government funding for disability support workers is just $12 an hour, versus $15-17 per hour for similar work with regional health authorities or educational assistant jobs. That’s creating staffing recruitment and retention problems rural agencies responsible for adults with intellectual disabilities.
In Boissevain, Prairie Partners is down to just 13 staff, from 28. It recently closed one program, relocating seven long-term clients out of the community. More closures could be coming.
“Family Services and Labour is not paying funding for salaries that are reflective of the level of responsibility of the staff,” said Jason Dyck, Prairie Partners executive director.
Grandview Gateways in the Parkland region has also closed a community home. Its board of directors notified Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard last August that it plans to increase staff hourly wages by $5 per hour and bill the province. Otherwise, Gateways will be forced to close more homes. Gateways asked the minister to respond by Oct. 1 but did not hear back.
“We are constantly competing with the hospitals, personal care homes, home care, mental health. They’re all unionized positions and their pay rates are $4, $5 and $6 per hour more than we can pay,” said Carolyn Crossley, manager of Grandview Gateways.
The funding shortfall occurs at a time when the province is putting more mentally handicapped adults into communities with the phasing out of the Manitoba Developmental Centre in Portage la Prairie where many adults resided.
But the province says it has already increased the budget for adults with intellectual disabilities by 346 per cent since 1999. Manitoba spends $270 million on 5,200 adult participants, or about $52,000 per participant per year, although the sum varies widely depending on the level of support.
Charlene Paquin, assistant deputy minister of disability programs, said the office is looking at all aspects of service delivery and “how we can work differently with what we’ve got,” not just more funding for disability support workers.
The decision to phase down the developmental centre in Portage is only one factor that has swelled the budget for adult disability programs. Others include an increase in support services and the fact people are living longer, Paquin said.
“I think we recognize there are issues in the sector. Those recruitment and retention issues are not unique to Manitoba. Particularly in some rural communities, they face bigger challenges,” Paquin said. The province will have to sit down and talk with the Grandview and Boissevain agencies, she said.
Dyck said a number of rural agencies are looking to downsize because of the lack of staffing. Prairie Partners, which started 55 years ago, is also competing with the booming oilpatch. The agency recently lost two staff to the oilpatch where jobs pay up to $28 an hour.
Grandview Gateways runs programs for 29 adults. Its board must still rule on whether to implement the $5 wage increase, contingent on the province’s response.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 6, 2012