The provincial government needs to change its funding model before 30 adults with intellectual disabilities are displaced, according to a non-for-profit organization that cares for them.
Southwest Community Options, which runs nine group homes in Killarney, Ninette and Baldur, can no longer afford to provide care with the funds alloted them, executive director Ron McCullough said.
“The province has very high service delivery expectations, as they should, and the funding levels do not match those expectations,” McCullough said. “I believe it’s a policy and program failure of the provincial government.”
The organization is currently entered into a purchase of service agreement with the province and is provided approximately $3.5 million annually to provide care.
SCO has instructed the province when the agreement runs out at the end of June, it will terminate service unless the funding is increased.
McCullough said of the $3.5 million they receive, about $2.9 million is dedicated to payroll while the remaining $600,000 goes toward daily living expenses such as food, transportation, property tax, utility bills, building maintenance and rent on one of the homes the organization doesn’t own.
When cost out, McCullough said SCO can afford to pay its 100 full-time, part-time and casual employees approximately $12 per hour. However, at that wage, keeping and retaining employees is virtually impossible.
Last year, instead of continuing the vicious circle of losing employees, SCO decided to offer wages it felt were more in line with market conditions in the area, bumping the wages to between $15 to $17 per hour.
“We view it as an investment in human resources and the province sees it as an expense,” McCullough said.
The seven-person volunteer board, who oversee the organization, felt the wage increase was necessary to attract a higher calibre of candidate to the job.
And it worked too. The board was suddenly flooded with more applications when presented with a vacancy, and the quality of candidates improved as well.
“The consequence of not having the labour force is that we put people at risk,” McCullough said. “The consequence of raising wages (to secure a quality labour force), which we have done to be able to deliver services, comes with a financial bite.”
McCullough said raising wages was paramount to keeping pace with its biggest competitor, the provincial government, who often hires entry level employees, with similar qualifications SCO is looking for, for more money in the health and education fields.
Last year, the organization ran a $500,000 deficit as a result of the increased wages. This year, they are on track to do the same.
Complicating matters further is that each one of the board members is personally liable for any cost overruns.
“It’s scary,” McCullough said. “These people are dedicated. They care. And they work hard to support these people.”
SCO has met with the province on several occasions and each time the government has told them there will be no additional money, according to McCullough.
The last general increase the organization received was in October of 2011, when the government bumped the funding model by one per cent. McCullough argues that increase doesn’t even keep pace with inflation or minimum wage hikes.
He also wonders where the 30 adults with intellectual disabilities, who were integrated into communities after several mental health institutions were disbanded in 2000, will go.
Other agencies he’s spoken with aren’t in a position to take on more people, while at least two more are in the same financial peril as SCO.
While Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross wasn’t available yesterday, a spokesman said the department continues to discuss the situation with SCO, “making every effort to ensure participants can stay in their home.”
Funding to SCO has increased by 11 per cent since 2008, the spokesman said, acknowledging that more work still needs to be done.
“Wages, along with recruitment and retention of staff, have been a problem in this sector across Canada for some time,” he said. “The funding model for day and residential services is currently under review and one of the goals is to ensure long term stability of these services and give front line workers the resources they need.”
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 14, 2014