MADAM CHAIR: Good evening. This is a great turnout. It is very nice to be in Truro. My name is Maureen MacDonald. I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Community Services. We, obviously, are the Standing Committee on Community Services. We have been from one end of the province to the other by now in this process of going out into the community in Nova Scotia, talking to people about social assistance reform. We have been in Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, Guysborough, Stellarton, Bridgewater, Kentville and Yarmouth. It is very nice to be here tonight in Truro before we head back to the metro area for the final round of public hearings.
The process we have been using as we travel around the province is one where, first of all, the members of the committee introduce themselves and then we have an agenda of people who have indicated that they would like to speak to us, make presentations. Sometimes people do this individually as private citizens and we also have groups and organizations that are coming before us. In some cases organizations or individuals have prepared written briefs. They read from them because that's what they feel comfortable doing, and that's fine. In other cases, people have prepared written briefs and rather than read through them they summarize them or hit on sort of the significant points that they would like to talk about, and that's fine. In other cases, we have had people who have presented just from their own experience and ideas without a written presentation, and that's fine as well.
After we have the people who appear on our agenda, who have called in advance, we ask for additional presenters because there may be people who didn't get on the list who are here tonight who have an interest in speaking to us. We want to hear from everyone who is interested in being heard. Members of the committee, following a presentation, may have questions or comments for presenters. Individuals have been asked to try to keep their presentations to about 15 minutes and groups to about 20 minutes, then that gives us time to ask questions and go into more detail. That essentially is the process.
We try to keep it as informal as possible although it is somewhat difficult in this kind of setting, I guess. We have microphones in front of us and everything that is occurring here tonight is recorded by our friends from Legislative Television as if we were in the House of Assembly. If there are people who would like to get on the list as the evening unfolds, would you please speak to Darlene, the lady in the green jacket over here at this table, or Kim, at the back in the yellow sweater, as well. They will put you on the list. So without taking up any more time with opening remarks, I would like to have the members of the committee introduce themselves, starting with the vice-chair of the committee.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: Our first presentation tonight will be from Women's Centres Connect and the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre: Georgia MacNeil, Katherine Reed and Diane Heal. Welcome.
MS. GEORGIA MACNEIL: Thanks very much for being here tonight. We really appreciate the opportunity to join in the public dialogue around social services reform. As you have already indicated, I am Georgia MacNeil and I am with Women's Centres Connect. We represent the provincial Association of Women's Centres in Nova Scotia. For your information, there are six women's centres across the province. With me tonight on my right is Katherine Reed and on my far right, Diane Heal from the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre.
The women's centres have been working with social assistance recipients who are their clients over the last number of months around issues of poverty and social assistance reform. So there has been a lot of discussion around problems that people are facing and what the discussion paper means to them. We met recently in New Glasgow and addressed the discussion paper item by item. What I will do is give you a short outline of some of the concerns that we have but before I do that, Katherine and Diane are going to give you a little scenario of the conversation between a present day social assistance recipient and the social assistance recipient of the future who is living in a restructured and ideal system.
MS. DIANE HEAL: My name is Diane. I am a single mom on family benefits in the year 2000. I have two kids. Tanya is 12 years old and John is only five.
MS. KATHERINE REED: I am Katherine. I am a single mom on family benefits right now in 1998. I also have two kids. Jason is 12 and Tracey is five.
MS. HEAL: A year ago the Family Benefits Program was completely reformed after the Province of Nova Scotia held public consultations and asked people who have experience with social assistance how the program could be made better. We never dreamed that they would actually listen and implement our suggestions but here I am raising my kids on family benefits and I can tell you from personal experience that there have been big improvements.
Just to show you how the program has improved, I will run through a day in the life of my family. You will see how different it is from my friend Katherine Reed's family. They live in 1998 before the reforms. It is Sunday. The children and I finish our homework so we can go to the afternoon movies. Things are going well. Tanya is improving in her schoolwork since she got her new glasses. They were paid for by the family benefits because they are considered a basic health care need.
MS. REED: It took me three months to get glasses for Jason. A local service club paid for them. He almost flunked that year because of the headaches he was getting. I got the proverbial social assistance run-around because when I applied for special needs money to pay for the eye exam and the new glasses, they said that we were getting more money on family benefits than we would be getting on income assistance, which was the program that had the special needs, so there was no budget deficit and we weren't eligible. No budget deficit? They should try running a household on this much money and then try to tell me there's no budget deficit.
MS. HEAL: So as I was saying, it is Sunday and tomorrow we're all back at school. I am attending college with the help of a student loan and subsidized child care. We are all doing well. I am hoping to graduate and be earning about $25,000 a year by the year 2004. It is nice to have something to look forward to. It feels good to be setting an example for my kids and teaching them about goal setting and the value of hard work.
MS. REED: What I would give for subsidized child care and enough money to go to school. The waiting list for child care is as long as your arm and I have tried to find out how much I can get from student aid but they won't give me a straight answer. So I don't know if I should go ahead and make plans for the next semester or what. I have been trying to get the career councillor on the phone for a week but they are so understaffed our councillor is only in town one day a week. So you can imagine how much time she has to spend with each client. I am getting pretty discouraged but I had better try to phone her this week anyway. I don't even know how much longer I will be able to keep the phone hooked up because I am paying for it out of our clothing budget and winter is here.
MS. HEAL: I absolutely couldn't live without a phone. How would I call 911? The nearest neighbour is at least a five minute walk from here. I need the phone to set up appointments for doctors, to stay in touch with Tanya's teacher, to keep track of where the kids are, and to be able to organize visits with the kids' father and grandparents. Family benefits allows enough for basic phone service now because really everybody considers it a necessity.
Speaking of the phone, they should be calling tonight about the hockey team. I have always been a big hockey fan and both the kids love to play. John is just a beginner, of course. It is kind of expensive with all the gear and the fees but I pay for it out of my national child benefit. I figure that's what the benefit is for, to enhance the kids' education and recreation.
They learn all kinds of things by going to hockey, not just about the game, but they build skills and confidence and they get a feeling of belonging in the community. They learn about working hard to advance their goals and how to get along with people and be part of a team. Everybody's kids are in hockey or some sort of recreation program. It is really important.
MS. REED: My kids don't even ask for things like recreation. We use the national child benefit for clothing, food, rent, dental work and that sort of basic stuff that the family benefits doesn't cover completely. They cover about 80 per cent of the real costs of the basic needs. That's it. The family benefits transportation allowance gets me home with the grocery order exactly twice a month. We walk everywhere else we need to go. It is a good thing maybe that I am not in school; I spend so much time walking, I would probably never have time for homework.
MS. HEAL: Too bad for you, Katherine, you're going to be on welfare for the rest of your life.
MS. REED: Yes, too bad for everybody.
MS. MACNEIL: Thanks very much. Well, as you can see, a restructured system can offer a way out of being on the system if it is done right. When we spoke to the women in New Glasgow - now these were women from all across the province - the key issue for all of them, first and foremost, was that benefits are inadequate. The discussion paper certainly recognizes the fact that people need basic necessities before they can take advantage of educational and training opportunities. They need to have their basic necessities provided for before they can get off the system.
As you can see by listening to the exchange between Katherine and Diane, you can see how single parents on assistance struggle daily just to put food on the table. It is absolutely impossible to consider someone pursuing an education or holding down a job when those types of struggles fill up the day.
One of the women that we talked to said that reading the discussion paper and looking at the proposed changes, it seemed to her it was like trying to put a roof on a place that didn't have a basement. We would like to agree with that. There needs to be a solid foundation for people to build from and that comes back to the issue of benefits. We find that the benefits, as they are, need to be increased. They need to be expanded to include things like telephones, adequate child care, transportation and they need to be increased to cover activities for children which will give them social, physical and mental skills and will help them, as Diane said, to feel like they belong to the community and to grow up to be healthy members of that community.
Healthy child development was definitely a big concern for most of the women we spoke to. In looking at the Child Tax Benefit Program, nobody could really figure out how it was going to alleviate poverty or help children to become functioning members of society. First of all, the clawback of benefits from social assistance recipients does absolutely nothing to alleviate poverty of these children and, secondly, instituting programs with that clawed back funding is just absolutely unacceptable. We can't accept that because people are poor, their children need social programs. Poor people are not predisposed to being bad parents. Poor children are not predisposed to being bad children. When you're bored, isolated, marginalized and deprived, you don't have access to activities and education that will help you to build self-confidence and self-esteem and you go nowhere.
The only people who need social programs are those who are mentally ill or having to have some sort of assistance to heal from some sort of childhood trauma. This need is not just for people who are on welfare. Those types of at-risk people are throughout the population and we would suggest that any social programs that are instituted have to be for the general population.
One of the things that poverty does is that it marginalizes and isolates people and marginalized and isolated people never become part of the larger community. So by creating programs targeted at poor children, targeted at the children of welfare recipients, you continue to marginalize these children and you don't do any good with the programs. I would say that it is probably more of a damage than a prevention initiative.
We certainly don't approve of clawing back the federal child tax benefit from social assistance recipients. Also, the way that the wording has been laid out and the way that it seems to be structured is that there has become a division between the good poor and the bad poor. The good poor being the working poor, who do not have their benefits clawed back, and the bad poor, who are social assistance recipients and for whom these benefits are classed as income. That creates an absolutely unacceptable situation.
Our discussions also looked at a lot of the barriers that women face, to getting an education, to going back to work, and first of all, when we are looking at a fair and equitable system, I think it is very important that single parents should choose to go back to work, if their situation indicates that that is the best thing for them. Parenting is not valued in monetary terms, and I think it is time that the social value of parenting is recognized. Forcing single parents, especially those with young children, back to work, deprives children of extremely important role models, and no amount of prevention or social programming can replace the parenting that is done.
Other barriers that are faced, of course, are practical barriers, childcare and transportation; transportation, especially in rural areas. If transportation and childcare and these other practical needs are not provided for, women cannot access education or the job market. If benefits require that a person only makes $200 a month from employment income,
women can't afford to go back to work. One of the women we spoke to said that it cost her $500 a month in childcare and transportation to make $200. Does that make sense? That limit has to be removed.
The other concerns women had about the fair and equitable system revolved around access to information and support services. Most of the women we spoke to felt that they didn't have access to information on social assistance regulations and policies. They had no idea what their rights were, what they could expect from the system. They didn't know what other things were available from them, not necessarily from Community Services, but other programs from other departments, like education and training programs.
They said they need access to this information, and they need this information from a non-judgemental unbiased source. A lot of the women said that they come to women's centres because that is what we can give them. We can give them the information that they need, we can point them to other programs and services that are available, and we can advocate on their behalf, if they choose to have us do so. Some women don't feel they need that; some of them just want the information, but some of them need an advocate.
I think this leads into another big concern of the women, which was around their relationship with the workers. Many of the women found that the caseworkers were rude, judgemental, disrespectful, harassing, basically adversarial towards the women. I think it is really important to recognize that you cannot punish and help someone at the same time. Most of the relationships with workers seem to be very punitive. Some women even said that they were given wrong information about regulations and policies, and if they hadn't had the ingenuity to seek the correct information, they would still be stuck in an impossible situation.
I think it is important that caseworkers have some sort of sensitivity training, but that isn't necessarily a guarantee that the relationships will improve. What we are suggesting is that there should be a really clear statement of the worker's responsibility to the client. The client should be given a bill of rights which outlines the worker's responsibility and also what the client can do if they have a grievance or an appeal. It should also spell out what the consequences are for improper behaviour on the part of a worker. There is no incentive or disincentive for them to change their behaviour at present and I don't think that helps the situation. The accountability has to be clear and enforced. In terms of the appeal process, a lot of women found that it was very convoluted and unclear, so the appeal process needs to be spelled out and this information has to be readily available, without pulling teeth.
Finally, one of the suggestions from one of the women was that the local appeal boards should have membership from people who have experienced low-income situations and particularly from those who have experienced being social assistance recipients. I think this
would make the whole process a little more fair and would make the people filing the appeal feel a lot safer and more comfortable.
In terms of accessing education and training, the same barriers were faced, practical barriers, again, child care and transportation; they come back and they will keep coming back until they are addressed. In terms though of actually getting trained and getting into the job market, women said that they really needed to have some sort of assessment where they could find out what their skills and capabilities are and what they are most suited for. So that is a basic first-step in deciding how to get back into the job market.
Another thing that they found that was important was they can't be shoved into some sort of training which will not give them the skills to perform an adequately paying job. That speaks to the wider job market which, of course, is not very good in Nova Scotia. Part-time, low-paying, seasonal or temporary work is the norm and becoming more and more common. What sense does it make to train someone to go into that type of job market?
I think what the government really needs to do is to look at supporting community economic development initiatives and look at developing sustainable local economies. This is not necessarily just Community Services itself that should be doing this, I think this needs to be a cross-governmental initiative. I think there are some role models that can be drawn from. If we rely on the global market to provide work for all of our citizens, we are not going to be in very good shape.
I have to think about what else I need to say here. Coming back to the statement that it is not just Community Services' responsibility to foster sustainable development. I think that brings us to a really key point in that in a lot of government programming and policy making, there is really no integration between social and economic objectives. This split is further exaggerated when each department forms its own goals and objectives, does its own planning and policy making. Doing this in such a fragmented way, of course, leads to gaps in services and programs and often conflicting intent.
I think it is really important that the government step back from restructuring specifically, step back from restructuring Community Services until there is some sort of framework in place that considers cross-sectoral planning and some sort of framework that integrates social and economic objectives. If we concentrate on the economic objectives and leave the social ones behind, we are going to be in a worse situation 2 years, 5 years, 10 years down the road.
I also think it is very important to go to the people who are experiencing the problem before you start to develop solutions. People who are experiencing a problem are the experts. They are the ones who can tell you exactly what the problem is, how it happens, why it happens, and how to solve it. This particular consultation is, I think, a really good example of something that has to become more and more common. Not only do we have to integrate
planning and programming across sectors, but we have to integrate it from the individual through the service sector into government and we all have to work together. There is no other way that it is going to work to create a sustainable solution.
I think meaningful consultation is part of that process that has to happen and certainly, meaningful consultation has to be based on respect. It has to be based on listening, because if someone who has a problem tells you what they know about it and how to solve it, meaningful consultation would suggest that action flows from those statements. So I think it is very important to begin to develop some trust and dialogue between individuals and the government. I think this is a good start. If anyone has any questions, we would be happy to answer.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. James Muir.
MR. JAMES MUIR: Georgia, just a point of clarification. You were talking about the Child Tax Benefit and the clawback on it, and you made a statement that it should be for everybody and not just for those on assistance. Did you make that? I did not quite understand that point.
MS. MACNEIL: Initially, when I was discussing the Child Tax Benefit, I guess there were two points I was needing to make. One flowed from the other. First of all, being that it is not fair to claw back benefits paid to social assistance recipients and not claw it back from the working poor. Secondly, I think programs should be universally available and not targetted at certain segments of the population.
MR. MUIR: So it would be for everybody; that is what I thought you said.
MS. MACNEIL: And don't claw it back from everybody, either.
MS. REED: I would just like to add, on the issue of the clawback of that national child benefit supplement, I am just trying to encourage single parents on social assistance and their friends to write to the Minister of Community Services and tell her exactly what that money would have gone for. It is amounting to about $50 or so per month per child and I think that would pay for participation in a recreational program or an art class or music lessons or whatever. If a lot of parents wrote to the minister and told her what that money is preventing their children from participating in, which other children do participate in, maybe it would make a difference.
MR. MUIR: I guess what you have described seems to me to be perhaps a return to the old system of family allowance. Is that it? Everybody got it when I was a young person.
MS. REED: From what I have read describing this program, it is available to, there are low income cut-offs, $16,000-something for provincial and $20,000 for federal.
MR. MUIR: The original family allowance program as I knew it was universal.
MS. REED: It wasn't the family tax benefit that I said should be universal, it is any programs that are initiated.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Jerry Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: Georgia, first I think that Women's Centre Connect - and you may correct me if I am wrong - I think this is from all the six women's centres across Nova Scotia, this submission that you are making tonight, I want you to know that from what I see it is an excellent submission, tremendously in-depth, and with such numerous recommendations. I do want to go to Page 14. I want to say that we have learned something new here tonight and this, I believe, is the first time it has been brought up. With respect to Recommendation No. 9, the Bill of Rights for New Clients, I think that is a move in the right direction.
Recommendation No. 12 is one that I want to talk about, too. Your recommendation says to establish a 1-800 line where recipients can call to receive immediate assistance for emergencies and special needs. I would hope that you could extend that a bit further and say for after-hours services there may very well be needed, like their nearest women's centre or whatever, the services that are available to them. As you are aware and I am aware, many people in a community may not know that you exist, and therefore are in serious problems because they don't know that and are living in a dangerous situation. I am wondering if you have given that any thought, expanding on that, as a matter of fact?
MS. MACNEIL: I think that is an excellent idea and I think one of the points that I neglected to make was that I think government should be strongly supporting the community-based service sector. Agencies like women's centres, family service centres, work very closely with their communities and we work with people in ways that make sense to them. We provide cost-effective services and I think it is very important to have that link in there. It fills the spectrum from the individual through to the government, so, yes, I think that is an excellent suggestion, Jerry.
MR. PYE: Thank you. The other final suggestion that I will make and it is with respect to your submission, because I know it is in-depth and we didn't have much time to read it but once again, I do thank you, it is Recommendation No. 17 with respect to Pharmacare benefits being extended to all families, working or not. I don't need to go through it, but could it be something a universal Pharmacare Program in the province could sustain?
MS. MACNEIL: Yes.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you kindly.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Murray Scott.
MR. MURRAY SCOTT: Thank you, Georgia, for your presentation. Something I have come in contact with quite a bit through my constituents, and I am wondering what your experience has been, with regard to single moms who would like to get off the system and they are looking to go to community college, as an example, and just can't seem to receive any assistance to get themselves trained for another job, what has been your experience and what would you like to see with regard to that?
MS. MACNEIL: Well first of all I would like to see a better job market but, working backwards from that, I think there have to be a lot of supports available to women. I spoke to one woman who was at one time on municipal benefits. In order to go back to community college she had to stop receiving benefits because she was supposed to be employable to be eligible. She had to take out a $10,000 student loan to train for a job which would ultimately pay her $6.00 an hour. That job will never support her and her family, so when will she ever pay back the $10,000? That is an absolutely ridiculous situation.
There have to be supports available for women who want to go back to school. The fact that the job that she was ultimately destined for is a low-paying job to begin with is another whole problem in itself. There has to be some sort of coherent planning and cooperation across government departments to provide the supports that women need. For instance, she should not have had to relinquish her family benefits. The student loan that she took out had to pay for all of her children's needs as well as her own and that is ridiculous. There have to be supports available to make sure that that doesn't happen.
MS. REED: We saw an example of a situation we have now for income assistance recipients. This woman wasn't a single mom, but she should have been an income assistance recipient, I guess. She had just finished a year at university and was doing very well and she was beating the street in April or May looking for work. She didn't find work right away and she depleted her student aid and all of her resources and she was completely without money for food, had not paid the rent yet for the beginning of the month and didn't know what to do, so she went to apply for assistance. The worker asked her, are you registered for university to return for your second year and, of course, she was. The worker then said that you are a student, so you cannot get any welfare. So that was as simple as that.
I got on the case and started advocating for her and got absolutely nowhere, except that the local employment resource person was able to set up a job for her and then even negotiate with the employer to accelerate her income for the first few weeks and then sort of run it out during the last few weeks when her student loan would come back. So something very helpful was done, but she was fortunate that she had the skills and the job was there and she had that support, but during the month or two when she had no income at all, she was in a very bad way, and there is no excuse for a person being put in that situation.
What does it tell us? We hear from all levels of government and from the corporate sector and everywhere that we need a flexible well-trained workforce so we can be competitive, et cetera, and you pull yourself up by your bootstraps - and the best route to get off poverty and stay away from social assistance is education - but when people try to do that, we say, yeah, but you are going to have this little problem. It is not consistent, and it is not helpful.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Yvonne Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: I just wanted to thank all of you for your presentation. I haven't had an opportunity to read it, but just looking through the 31 recommendations, they are excellent recommendations. I also realize that it must have been quite difficult to do all of this work with such short staff and volunteers and that kind of stress. The question I have for you. Women who work with other women at the women's centres - and I know your funding comes from Community Services - has there been any change or movement in terms of the status of your funding with Community Services within the last week or so?
MS. MACNEIL: No, there hasn't been any. First of all, we are still waiting for our second instalment of our yearly budget to come along, and we have no idea when that will be forthcoming, and the rest of it is status quo.
MS. REED: When Community Services initially funded us, it was in 1994 or 1995, they funded us at a level of $55,000 a year, and since then, our statistics, we keep records of how many women come in and what they come for, and it has more than doubled since we were originally given that funding. Funding has been cut back, so that we are now below $53,000, I think. The need is obvious and the benefit that women enjoy from accessing the supports there are obvious, but the support from Community Services has got to increase. We can't keep it up.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments for these presenters? I have one thing I would like to ask you. Have you submitted your brief to the Minister of Community Services as part of the process that the Department of Community Services is going through?
MS. MACNEIL: We are planning on submitting it tomorrow.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. I would like to say thank you as well. A very creative way of starting off the presentation, and I think your point is really well taken that social assistance, as we currently understand it, was constructed in an era where food, clothing and shelter were considered the necessities of life. But maybe we need to rethink what a modern day reality is in terms of what is the standard of living now that most people enjoy, and what is the framework for necessities of life in today's current conditions, and whether or not our system meets that test? I think it is fairly clear that it doesn't. Thank you. (Applause)
Our next presentation will be from Richmond Faulkner.
MR. RICHMOND FAULKNER: Good evening. Should I say Madam Chairman or Madam Chairlady?
MADAM CHAIR: Chairperson, chairwoman, chairlady . . .
MR. FAULKNER: Good evening to the panel, and to all the good people here tonight, good evening. My name is Richmond Faulkner, and I am here to make a presentation on behalf of the handicapped people of the Province of Nova Scotia. I have a handicapped brother, he is 60 years old and handicapped with cerebral palsy since the moment of his birth. He has not known a good day in his life as the rest of us know it, but also I want to say that I am not looking for anything in particular for my brother, I am interested in fair and equitable service for anyone in need in this province, handicapped being the name of the game at the moment.
I have been trying to work through the Department of Community Services for the last four years. I have tried to get meetings with the former minister, Jim Smith, and I got absolutely nowhere whatsoever. I got some kind of letter back from him that was not much good. I tried to make contact with John MacEachern when he took over the job and still no success. Eventually, Francene Cosman and just about the same result, but I will refer to that comment later. I have very serious concerns about this government department and I will address them to the best of my ability. I apologize for my throat right now. I have an appointment for April 26th to get something looked at there.
Again, I will go back to the chairlady. You suggested that you would like to have a 15 minute presentation and when I called to make the arrangements for this, I talked to the ladies over there and I told them that my presentation might be just a little bit longer, so they said they wouldn't shoot me.
MADAM CHAIR: We have not been known to cut anyone off yet.
MR. FAULKNER: I was hoping for that. See me through; I will try to be as quick as I can.
I have ample evidence that personnel at all levels, from the minister to junior staff, most definitely have other agendas than to serve the people of Nova Scotia and, most particularly, the handicapped and the disadvantaged. This is not the only department in this government, nor is it the only government to operate this way. What really is the agenda of government? Is this what we really want? It sure as blazes is not what I want.
My first experience with this department was sometime before April 1995. My brother Douglas, the victim of cerebral palsy, asked me to attend a LIDA meeting with him in Truro here, as I could speak and he could not. LIDA means Life Improvement for the Disabled and they have provided a wheelchair accessible bus in the Truro area for about 20 years. Ridership at that time was approximately 150 handicapped persons from age 8 to 98. The provincial government had been a supporter of LIDA, and the reason for this meeting at that date was because the government was planning a service exchange with the municipalities, towns, cities, counties, et cetera of Nova Scotia and LIDA would be cut from any provincial government assistance.
LIDA had to address this situation. The MLA for Truro-Bible Hill, Eleanor Norrie, was in attendance, but offered no encouragement whatsoever, nor, of course, did anyone else. As time went on, LIDA tried to reverse this government decision. Both LIDA's secretary at that time, Miss Sherry Ross, and I, a director, wrote to the then minister, Jim Smith, requesting a meeting to resolve this most serious matter. It was our position that government existed primarily to provide essential services to its citizens. Jim Smith's suggestion was for these handicapped people to fund-raise. How, nobody has figured out yet.
Jim Smith was replaced by John MacEachern, but the scenario did not change. No meeting; no money; fund-raise. At a LIDA meeting in Truro around late November 1996, with about 22 people in attendance, we again tried to seek funding with representatives from Truro, Colchester County, the school board, nursing homes, et cetera, present, as was Ruth Sherman, District Manager of the Department of Community Services. None had any suggestions. Ms. Sherman assured us there is no government money. How she knew that before checking all levels of her department, I don't know. It was a spontaneous response.
As it was almost certain the bus would stop after Christmas, the driver laid off and 150 people stuck in their homes, I offered LIDA $10,000 of my own money. I didn't even suggest it to my wife before I did it; I went home and told her that I had done it. I think I got apple pie the next day anyway. I gave that money to LIDA to help until more suitable arrangements could be made.
Now, what I didn't know. Eventually the Savage ship sank with most of its crew. The Honourable Francene Cosman became the new minister in MacLellan's team. I wrote to Mrs. Cosman requesting a meeting. I got no answer. I spoke to Russell MacLellan at East Hants Liberal Association meeting in the early summer of 1997 and explained our plight. He indicated his concern. A letter to me from the Premier stated, "I have instructed the minister", Francene Cosman, "to contact you so that this important matter can be resolved.". I got no response.
After many calls to the Department of Community Services, I finally spoke with Ms. Tracy Williams. Now she is some part of the hierarchy there, I don't know exactly what her position is, but she is part of it somewhere. After much persuasion, she agreed to a meeting
in New Glasgow on October 27, 1997, to be attended by herself, Ms. Nina Clark, the Regional Director, me, and former Secretary, Ms. Sherry Ross. The eventual result of that meeting after considerable delay was $15,000 to keep LIDA running until March 31, 1998. Now where that date came from I don't know, but that is what they offered, verbally. However, as the Town of Truro had given us $2,000, the $15,000 had to be reduced by that amount - I don't know why - which in fact became $12,500. New government math.
In the dying days of John MacEachern's reign, a new initiative was developed through which cities, towns, municipalities, organizations or groups could apply for a grant of up to $15,000 for the cost of a study to determine transportation needs for the handicapped and how best to provide it in their community. It was emphasized that this money was not for operating costs.
Keeping in mind the foregoing and the widely known fact that, for 20 years, LIDA has had a bus, driver, clients and complete organization - with the exception of sufficient funds - LIDA was advised by several bureaucrats and elected members to apply for that grant. Now when it states right in the grant - the wording of it I have at home - it is not for operating expenses, why would we be told to apply for that? We don't need a study. Isn't there something weird going on here? I have a stack of letters from various politicians suggesting LIDA should access this grant.
While all this is or is not happening with LIDA, that tried and proven organization, there exists in the Truro area a group trying to create a cooperative to run a bus service for handicapped and able citizens alike, but for a profit. That is a far cry from the user-friendly LIDA bus that never turned anybody down that I know of, whether they belonged to LIDA or didn't; the LIDA bus was always accessible to anybody that needed it. It seems that government is quite prepared to support the cooperative. Well, enough on LIDA; I could be here all night on that subject.
Over to my brother Doug. He is 60 years old and suffers from cerebral palsy. He is confined to a wheelchair. He cannot talk to be understood by strangers. For the last 12 years, he has lived in a private home at his own expense, using money left to him by his mother and, later, her sister, his aunt, my aunt, whatever. One year ago, with his money dwindling, and no source of supply, I approached government agencies here in Truro to see what help, if any, was available for him. The events that followed would blow the collective minds of the Supreme Court of Canada. Now, I mean that emphatically.
I have a short list of things that happened, but, certainly, it is way beyond that. I was told there would be no assistance as long as he lives in an unlicensed home. Now, he may qualify for assistance to a maximum of about $400 a month. Who could live on that? I don't know. His application, plus a doctor's certificate stating his condition, must be in their office
at least six months in advance for processing. Boy, I would hate to send to Sears for something like that. His application cannot be accepted because he has too much money. Well, he had enough money to live on for six months and it takes six months to process the papers. Now, this is ridiculous. I was told to resubmit an application at a later date, when his money got a little bit shorter; then he can retain total assets of $3,000 and be eligible for assistance.
Later, I was told that he cannot keep $3,000. He will be allowed to keep $1,500 if he has a prepaid funeral. Now, where are you going to get a prepaid funeral when you have just about shot your bullet already? You have no money left. By this time, this was March 1998 by now, his funds were becoming quite low. Nine months ago if this had been important, something could have been done. However, he would have needed assistance sooner, as his funds would have been depleted sooner. Again, the subject of licensed facilities in lieu of the present arrangement. I pointed out that he is happy where is now and he would not be happy in a licensed placed. He now lives for one-half the cost, and even less than one-half the cost of Hillcrest Manor.
The government not only licensed but, in fact, ran the Shelburne Home for Boys, the Maritime Home for Girls, Westray Mine, Sydney Steel, et cetera, and I could not really conclude that a government license is that much better than no license at all. (Applause) Eventually I was told - now this is April 1998, the calender is going by - by Ms. Ruth Sherman, District Manager, that his room and board would be paid commencing in May 1998 and that he could retain the $3,000 and that he would receive $185 per month in comfort money, starting in June, because he already had some money left of his own. Okay, no problem with that.
Some few days later, though, Ms. Sherman called me to advise that Ms. Jennifer McGill, her subordinate, had determined that Doug could not have $185 a month, but, in fact, $90. Speaking with Ms. McGill, a day or two later, I was told that she required a new application form and a new medical form and a statement of what Doug planned to spend his last few dollars on. I objected, stating that nothing had changed since the originals were submitted; he was born with cerebral palsy and he would die with it. I also told her that the money he had in his hand was his own, that his mother and his aunt had left it to him. It wasn't government money and, as far as I was concerned, whatever he did with it was his own bloomin' business.
I did advise her that his money would be all gone before the end of June, because there were things that he had to spend it on. It would be gone by then. That was verbally. In early July - a couple of months has gone by, by now - Ms. McGill advised me that no comfort money was sent for June as no statement of his expenditures had been received. Reluctantly, I provided that statement. Ms. Sherman gave me a copy of a page stating that comfort money in Nova Scotia was $105 a month, except in the Truro area where it is $90.
Now, wouldn't you think a tube of toothpaste in Truro would cost the same as it would in Amherst? This is what the money is for, for him to buy the essentials of life that are not covered in their little dole. I asked why the difference. She advised that she would write to her superior, Ms. Nina Clark, in New Glasgow, asking that it be made $105 for Doug. Now, is this a special case or is everybody in this area going to get it? I don't know. Eventually, Ms. McGill called to advise that Doug would get $90 the end of July, then $105 after that. Does anyone know or care what Doug did for money for the month of July? He didn't have any. He had to scrape along some way, but I don't think anybody ever attempted to address that.
Only recently I heard that the $105 is now going to start the end of September, not the end of July; there is August and September in between. Why all this picking, needling and aggravation? For Pete's sake, we have a Department of Community Services. Wouldn't it be nice if it would render some services? (Applause)
I am saying, primarily, because the reason I am here, as I said already, is on behalf of handicapped people. I know there are other people who need services. I do know that. There is some hood who just got out of jail yesterday who needs to be helped; maybe a bullet in the head might be just as good, but we cannot do that. At the same time, the handicapped people cannot help themselves. I said when I started, I am not working here solely in the interests of my brother; there are lots of people all over this province who fit a similar description of him.
I go with him. I take him in my own car to Camp Tidnish, which is outside of Amherst, just over the New Brunswick border, as a matter of fact. I take him there every year and you see the horrible specimens of humanity that are there. The majority of them are impoverished, among other things. They are handicapped. They cannot put their socks on. A great many of them cannot feed themselves. I see counsellors there at that establishment stuffing food into somebody's mouth and then the next thing they choke and spray-paint the wall with it, but the counsellors are very good and they keep on trying. A lot of people trying to get into that camp cannot get there because they cannot afford it. I know that.
The handicapped people of Nova Scotia are not being very well served, to my mind. Now, there may be the odd person who is a car accident victim, who sued the other car or whatever and got a $1 million settlement out of it. I don't know, but I would think if you took 100 handicapped people from any part of this province and you checked seriously their financial situation, you would find that the vast majority of them are way below the poverty line, and here we have an organization that is not rendering them any help. If they are rendering them any help at all, it is after a battle. It is just pathetic.
Like I said, there is no way I can go through here at this table the stuff I have gone through in the last year and one-half, right here in the Truro office. If it is happening here in this office, is it not, in fact, happening in Amherst, in Sydney, in Yarmouth, wherever? Is it happening in all of those places, too? What I am saying to you is I think we need to revamp
this whole thing so someone can walk in off the street, be it a handicapped person or someone on his or her behalf, and be welcome to come in and sit down and have a chair and let's have a chat. Let's discuss this thing; let's see what we can do.
I don't think the taxpayers of Nova Scotia would mind. I think it is about time the taxpayers of Nova Scotia got some input into it because, after all, we are paying the shot. When I see favouritism for people who are already millionaires and billionaires like K. C. Irving, what did he just get here from the government a little while ago? I don't even know the number; it doesn't matter. All kinds of big-name companies, Michelin, whatever, dole out $20 million here, $40 million there. My God, couldn't we keep a few dollars for these handicapped people?
Just to go back a moment, to the LIDA bus. Here is something that I have pointed out to all kinds of people, ministers, I have written to them all, and anybody else I have tried to communicate with, that the LIDA bus has in fact a need for $50,000 per year, more than the money it already has coming in; $50,000 a year would keep that bus running pretty good. Now it wouldn't be doing all the weekend and evening runs and all that stuff we might like, but it would do quite well with $50,000 a year. If you divide that by 150 people, unless my calculator is crazy, I think that is $333.33 per person. I think that the handicapped people themselves are paying more than that in taxes, because everything they buy, they have to pay taxes on, same as we do.
I just think that we have to get the department to look at its mandate, and then get on with it and do it. As I stated in my opening paragraph, it seems that everyone in this department has an agenda other than serving Nova Scotia's citizens and taxpayers. All members of this department with whom I have talked - and indeed those with whom I have tried to talk - share a common desire not to talk to me. If for any reason this is personal, I take no particular offence, and I don't care. If somebody doesn't like my face, that is fine, I can handle it.
All I have ever done or said was always in the interest of the most needy and the most vulnerable. I haven't asked anybody for anything whatsoever for myself or for anybody in this province who can take care of themselves; I have spoken for handicapped people who cannot take care of themselves. Surely personalities could be put aside, if any problem does exist, so that we could join together in dealing with these problems.
What is the rationale to fight, to argue, to lie, to change stories, to deny responsibility, and to confuse every issue? Why do government employees have the opportunity to do this in the first place? Why do they have the right? Why do their superiors allow it and, in fact, encourage it by their own bloomin' example? Is there any honesty, integrity, decency left in government, or is it simply a grab bag for those who have weaselled themselves into it?
I suggest the time is long overdue that elected members be made entirely accountable to the people of the province, and that ministers of departments shoulder full responsibility for everything and everyone in their department, as a captain is responsible for the entire ship. I have 42 years of sailing under my belt, and I know something about captains and ships. Suitable discipline and methods of enforcement simply must be enacted to create a government which meets the needs of the province and its citizens.
Now, before I finish I have a couple of footnotes here that I want to mention. Footnote number one. At long last I did manage a meeting with Francene Cosman on September 22, 1998. I tried to get my previous Liberal MLA to arrange that meeting with the minister, no; I tried the PC Party to get them to help me get a meeting with the minister, nothing; and I tried the NDP before the last election and nothing happened.
It just so happens that I have an NDP MLA right now, the first one we ever had, and the first thing I asked him to do was get me a meeting with Francene Cosman. Two weeks after I spoke to him, the phone rang and it was Francene Cosman's 2IC, or whatever you call her in the office, making an appointment with me for September 22, 1998. I had that meeting and I asked my MLA to come with me. John MacDonell is the member I am talking about. John came with me and we had a meeting with Francene Cosman, the deputy minister, and the lady who was responsible for Community Support for Adults, that section of the department, Ms. Janet Bray.
I told Minister Cosman basically what I have told you, and a few other things. She wasn't all that happy about some of the things I told her, but at the same time she did promise to get back to me and I have a letter from her right here. The letter doesn't say a whole lot but it says that my brother, Doug, can stay where he is. They are not going to yank him out of there, as I understand they have yanked a few other people out of their homes recently, but that is another story. Anyway, I did get the meeting with Francene Cosman and I don't know if it is going to be productive; I hope it is. Most of what she said in her letter pertained to my brother, Doug.
Now again, as I said, I never told her I was in there to push for anything for my brother. I was using him as an example and the situations pertaining thereto as examples, but I wasn't asking for favours for him. I wanted him to be the recipient of fair and equal treatment the same for everybody else in the province and that is all I ever asked for. I did dwell to quite an extent on the LIDA bus issue and her one-sentence paragraph on the LIDA bus was that they continue to look for ways in which they can help. Now, what that means, I have no idea.
Footnote number two. The LIDA bus is presently shut down - and some people here, I think, already know that - and its clients stuck at home. There is another bus here, but it has been running full bore anyway and I don't think that it is very capable of taking on the clientele from the LIDA bus. Certainly, it can pick up one here and there once in a while, it
can make an effort, but the clients of the LIDA bus are basically stuck. We are hoping something positive might happen.
With that, I want to thank everyone on the panel and the citizens of the area for listening to me for this long. I certainly hope that now you people will do what you can to correct this situation. I think there is a big problem here and I certainly hope that you can correct it, or work toward it anyway. Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Are there questions or comments?
MR. PYE: Mr. Faulkner I understand that there is not enough public or accessible transit service, particularly in small towns and rural areas throughout Nova Scotia for persons with disabilities. I guess my question to you is, prior to this amalgamation of services or whatever, was, in fact, public or accessible transit provided by the local transit authority or the local transit organization?
MR. FAULKNER: No. In this area here?
MR. PYE: Yes.
MR. FAULKNER: This is the only area I can speak about, because I have some knowledge of this, but I don't have any knowledge of other parts of the province. No, there was no public transportation here for handicapped people. There is a LIDA bus.
MR. PYE: The reason why I say that is because I believed you said LIDA bus operated for about 20 years.
MR. FAULKNER: That is right.
MR. PYE: That was not a part of any particular transit service or anything?
MR. FAULKNER: That was LIDA itself; it was a private organization of its own.
MR. PYE: How was it funded then?
MR. FAULKNER: From several sources; the provincial government was one of the main sources; it was funded by the County of Colchester; the Town of Truro; fund-raising; and they do charge a user fee. It used to be $1.00 one way and $1.00 back. I think it is now $1.50 one way and $1.50 back, so that certainly doesn't cover the cost, it wouldn't buy the fuel.
MR. PYE: So there was a cost-sharing formula by the province whereby 40 per cent came through the ticket box and 60 per cent was covered by the province and the municipalities?
MR FAULKNER: I don't know where you got those numbers.
MR. PYE: Something to that effect then?
MR. FAULKNER: Pardon me?
MR. PYE: It was something to that effect was it?
MR. FAULKNER: I don't know where you got those numbers. I don't have those numbers, but I do know . . .
MR. PYE: I don't have the numbers. I am just trying to get clarity where it happened some 20 years ago.
MR. FAULKNER: Yes, it was funded partly by the provincial government and partly by the municipal governments here in the local area and, as I say, by various other sources. I would have to go back - well I don't even the facility to do so - but if I had somebody else from LIDA with a longer span of knowledge, they could certainly answer those questions.
MR. PYE: How many disabled persons were using LIDA prior to its shutdown?
MR. FAULKNER: Well, as I said, the ridership has been referred to as 150 people, but nobody has ever suggested that the bus hauls 150 people every day. It hauls regular people every day, like handicapped kids to school. It takes young people to youth workshops, that type of thing on a regular basis, but it also goes to nursing homes and places like that and takes people to medical appointments, et cetera.
MR. PYE: I understand what it did. It took people to work and to medical appointments, to and from their place of leisure, as well. So now they are unable to get anywhere because there is no service available to them?
MR. FAULKNER: Except, as I said, Able-Transit is another organization and they are operated by the Disabled Consumers Society of Colchester; I believe that is the name of it.
MR. PYE: And that is a non-profit organization?
MR. FAULKNER: That is a non-profit organization, yes. They have been, since their inception - and I don't know how long that is - since they began they have been basically supporting themselves through bingo.
MR. PYE: So you are just in a wait and see, with respect to the minister's letter, to see if the funding is going to come forward again for the LIDA Access-a-bus?
MR. FAULKNER: I was talking to the president of LIDA yesterday. They are cleaning out their office because they don't have any money to pay their rent for the office any more. They shut off the telephone because they don't have money to pay for the telephone, and they have taken everything out of there. The bus, as I say, is shut down. The driver is presently driving a bus for the school board, I believe taking the same kids, with another bus, that he used to take with a LIDA bus.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Richmond, for your presentation. Where is Doug presently living now?
MR. FAULKNER: Where is he living now? He is living in a private home in North River.
MR. SCOTT: Is he happy there?
MR. FAULKNER: Absolutely.
MR. SCOTT: Does he get good service?
MR. FAULKNER: Absolutely.
MR. SCOTT: Do you know how much the cost is per day compared to a licensed home?
MR. FAULKNER: Well, I don't know on a per-day basis, but I can tell you on a monthly basis that it is less than half the cost of a licensed home. Less than half, and that is one of the reasons it makes me wonder why the Department of Community Services wants to take my tax dollars and pour it down the tube to put him in a place he doesn't want to be, at twice the cost. (Applause) However, I guess I have already mentioned Francene's letter that I got, today or yesterday, said in fact that he can stay where he is; nobody is going to boost him out of there.
MR. SCOTT: You got the letter just in time.
MR. FAULKNER: Nobody actually grabbed him by the shoulders and started to throw him out yet, anyway.
MADAM CHAIR: One meeting and you are on a first-name basis, eh?
MR. FAULKNER: What, with Francene?
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments from members of the committee? I am aware that we have a number of presenters who are still waiting.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can I add one thing to what he is saying please? That bus that runs, I would like to see it run on the weekends and holidays, so the disabled can get home for the special holidays; it never does.
MADAM CHAIR: Will Hansard have picked that up?
The point that was made was that this bus doesn't run on weekends and holidays, and the lady from our audience is recommending that that is something that is a problem, because persons with disabilities need to come home on holidays and be able to be transported at those times.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Brooke Taylor.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: I just may say - and it mightn't be a fair comment because I do know where Doug lives, Richmond, and I know you have gone many times over and above and beyond the call of duty to help those who are disadvantaged - for those who don't know, Richmond Faulkner has helped many people who are disadvantaged, not just his brother. I concur with you, when your brother's health and safety needs are being met, whether the home is licensed or not is really irrelevant, if he is in his community and happy.
MR. FAULKNER: Yes, as far as I am concerned. (Applause)
I was going to say to you that the letter Francene wrote to me started off, Mr. Richmond Faulkner, but she scratched that out and wrote Richmond.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
Our next presentation is from the Schizophrenia Association, the Truro chapter, Jane Bermingham.
MS. JANE BERMINGHAM: Good evening, panel. My name is Jane Bermingham and I am a member of the Schizophrenia Society, Truro chapter. My presentation tonight will be directed at issues that affect people with schizophrenia, and these areas will be: early intervention; assessment of clients; employment; Pharmacare; and the role of families.
I think that early intervention is very important for the child and for the family. My son John was showing signs that there may have been a problem as early as two to three years old. Other parents of children with schizophrenia have told me the same. Although it is difficult to diagnose a child with schizophrenia at this early age, I feel that if we had been able to help him deal with some of his anxiety and show him some understanding, the outcome may have been a little different.
The report talks about assessing people for how likely they are to be employed, and this worries me because I would not want to see someone assessed as unemployable. Persons with schizophrenia have low, fragile self-esteems and such a label would not help. Besides, things change, often symptoms of schizophrenia disease decrease with age. New medications have done much to improve the functioning of persons with schizophrenia, and will continue to do so. No one should be labelled unemployable. I feel personally that everyone can contribute something, however small it is.
My son's drug bills are $263.30, and that is a decrease because his medication has been decreased; at one point in time, it was over $300. We are lucky we have medical coverage; however many people do not. Most people with schizophrenia, if they are able to work, it is on minimum wage, part-time jobs, and $263.30 would be a large chunk from these low wages. Medications are usually the reason that person is able to work, and it is usually vital that they remain on them; therefore, every effort should be made to make sure they have sufficient funds for medication.
Whether a person with schizophrenia continues to get Pharmacare and dental coverage would depend on the individual's circumstances. Most persons with schizophrenia want to work, and they have demonstrated that here in Truro by working as receptionists in the Friendship Club, baking muffins to raise money, working in the museum, and grocery stores. Unfortunately, they are often unable to work more than part-time because of their difficulties with anxiety. They need a flexible social assistance program which will support them in part-time jobs and move quickly to support them when jobs are lost.
The report talks about training for jobs, and I would like the committee to bear in mind that although job training does not always lead to a job, it can be very beneficial to the person, increasing their self-esteem and enabling them to function better in the community, and perhaps decreasing some of the services they need. One factor that really needs to be addressed when considering employment for people with schizophrenia is the stigma attached to the disease. I think that we are looking at a massive public awareness and education program before we will see many people with schizophrenia employed. In fact, it has been my experience that most people who do hold down employment have not told their employers that they have schizophrenia.
Families need support at the time of diagnosis and for several months afterwards. They need a person, preferably someone who has had personal experience with mental illness, to talk to. In most cases, friends and extended family are unable to help. The families need to know what to say and do to help their loved ones, what is available for their children and what is not. In my case, it was the Persons with Schizophrenia who attended the support group that helped me most. Many of them are living independently, some of them have jobs, and most of them were happy. Even though John may never have a job, marry or have a family of his own, I could see that he could live a happy, productive life.
Families do not need to be told to make financial contributions to their children's expenses. Families I know are buying houses, paying rent, purchasing clothes for their children, so they can have a better life and living conditions than the disabled pension would allow. Besides, insisting families contribute can be seen as a punishment for having disabled children, and shows a lack of understanding of what families go through. Parents in our group found this suggestion quite offensive. Support groups like the Schizophrenic Society try to educate the public and support families who have members with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, much of the group's time is spent raising money to keep going. There is a real need for stable funding for these organizations, so that they can do this important work.
To conclude, I would like to say that I see very positive things in this report, like early intervention, attempts to remove barriers to work with upgrading skills, and special support for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. When we discussed this report briefly as a group we felt that flexibility was really needed in the social services programs. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any questions or comments?
MR. MUIR: The numbers of persons who have schizophrenia or signs of it are higher than most of us believe. What percentage of our population . . .
MS. BERMINGHAM: I believe it is 1 in 100.
MR. MUIR: It's 1 in a 100, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Any other questions or comments? Just before you leave, we have had a number of presentations around the province from various Chapters of the Schizophrenia Association, both at the provincial level and then local chapters. Your presentation is very reinforcing in terms of the things we have heard, so I thank you very much.
MS. BERMINGHAM: Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation will be from the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, Charles Guilderson.
MR. CHARLES GUILDERSON: Actually it is from the Cumberland County Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MR. GUILDERSON: I am nervous. I will just read this I guess.
Fellow constituents, the term social services, what should that define? Can we define a concept for such a complex thing as people's welfare? Yes. Welfare, that is a dirty word, isn't it? For some reason the word has become a stigma for the recipient, family and even the caseworkers. It has become a dirty, little affair that no one wants to talk about. No wonder a cynical government in cynical times can keep the clamps on it. It is not really an ideological issue. It is just getting their balance sheet looking good in the short term and leaving the politically risky reform for election talk or the next government. We can't win with that kind of mentality.
If the times are good, the government of the day tries to sit on things to maintain the status quo. If the economy sours, the government of the day starts an austerity program that gives the government the excuse to torpedo the proposed reforms of the day. As disheartening as this point of view is, I think we can break this vicious cycle. A non-partisan and, yes, a practical approach to this problem may be part of the answer. More monetary support and open dialogue with advocacy organizations such as the Schizophrenia Society, for example, could be positive and keep the ball rolling on issues the government seems to not want to address or even acknowledge.
So much for my political ambivalent, but socially charged views. The observation of some of the people around me, I have been sort of bottom-feeding for the last 25 years of ebbing in and out of illness. Personally I am not bitter because my personal circumstances and well-being were not so constantly overwhelming and as taxing to me, and the social net in place. I was lucky to be born in a relatively stable family that wasn't plagued for the most part by upheavals, disasters, much unwellness and social vices. Of course, I have seen some hard-luck cases. I have seen people with little or no family support out there with the illness, not able to deal with a self-perceived, bewildering, hostile system. These people often become anti-social-services and they are often difficult to deal with by support system.
Of course, it is beyond most of us to see the solution; in fact, I find it hard to go on with the description about the paralyzing frustration and puzzlement that just came over me thinking of this problem. I guess if I were a support person in this conundrum I would be wondering, where is my support system? Why wasn't I trained for this? Why didn't I even anticipate this? I need a vacation. It all becomes a planning game, to put it short. That is why I think an organization that is immuned to politics is able to move faster than a politically speeding bullet and able leap high piles of red tape. It's the closest thing to super I know.
I don't know the reason behind the practice of clawing away the Pharmacare card if you manage to earn over the magical amount set by the system. I bet it has something to do with the public perception in the 1930's, right? That's probably unproductive sarcasm, but I can't help fight the feeling sometimes. Everybody knows that if you help an individual stay productive, a taxpayer, and healthy, everyone earns dividends. I don't know much about the history of this matter, but the inertia baffles me. I hope there is movement on this soon.
I have one more matter to bring up. My elderly father has been a refuge and an inspiration to me from the beginning. He is surprisingly well for his age. I'd like to be able to help him if he fails. I don't know what social support is supplied in my area for the circumstances. I hope there will be nursing support for us if I take on his care if such circumstances occur. I hope I will be able to return the favour if need be. I will close with an insight. The finger of blame is probably the devil's most effective tool. It confuses to the point of inaction and creates a very hostile environment for all.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MR. GUILDERSON: I have one question before you ask me questions. How come there was no forum in the Amherst area on the standing committee?
MADAM CHAIR: The question. Why did the Standing Committee on Community Services not go to Amherst for one of our public meetings? A little background to the committee and to the hearing process, and it is a very good question. The Standing Committee on Community Services has not met since 1993. When we were reconstituted after the last election, we're an all-Party committee of the Legislature, so there are people here on this committee from the three political Parties in the House.
The first thing we did was bring our ideas for what we thought the standing committee's work should be. There was consensus among members of the committee and all political Parties that we wanted to look at social assistance reform. When we discussed how we wanted to go about doing that, we agreed that we wanted to go out around the province and invite people to come talk to us and tell us what they thought about the social assistance system and how it operates and how it could be improved.
We have very little money to do the work of the standing committee. We're operating on a fairly tight budget and within that we had to identify then how many locations we could go to. We looked at what the practice has been of other standing committees travelling around the province. We were presented with a schedule of other standing committees that had gone to eight locations, and we decided as a committee to take those eight locations and add two more. We added two communities where there is a substantial Black population, because we thought it would be important to hear from African Nova Scotians, so in that way we have added the Preston community and Guysborough.
That gave us 10 locations and you are absolutely correct, we didn't go into Cumberland County. As a committee though, we have said that if there was a demand from an area or a community, then we would reassess our decision about where it was we were going. To date, you are the first person who has raised the question about Amherst and it is a fair one. So that sort of gives you the background. Are there any other members of the committee that would like to add to that?
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I would just like to let him know that there was no standing committee presentation in Dartmouth and there will be none either. So, you're not alone. Thank you.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, Charles. I am from Cumberland County and I couldn't agree with you more. If you recall, the WCB hearings in this province were excluding Cumberland County as well and it was only after a lot of pressure from people in the area that the politicians decided to go to the area. We talk about metro areas as compared to places such as Cumberland County. It is a lot harder to get to, for example, Truro here than it would be in metro, when you're only a few minutes away. So you are absolutely right and I agree with you. If these hearings are going to be held, they should be held fairly, and they should be placed fairly throughout the province to make it available to all. Thank you for your presentation. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation will be from the Institute for Early Childhood Education. Connie Miller and Anna MacDonell.
MS. CONNIE MILLER: Good evening, Madam Chair and committee members. I will start by introducing ourselves. This is Anna MacDonell beside me and she is the Program Director at the Institute for Early Childhood Education and I am the Executive Director. We had a presentation planned for you tonight and we brought a video. We have an excellent video that we would like you to see, but time is not going to allow for that, so we are going to re-organize our presentation and hit some of the high points for you. We will leave the video with the clerk, if you would like, to look at it. It is only a 20 minute one, but it really is very succinct and will give you a lot of background information that we are just going to touch on tonight.
We would like to make a two-part presentation to you. I am going to give you some background information on the institute and how we were founded and our role. We also are acting as advocates for child care. We want to bring forward some information that we think is important for this committee to have.
To begin with, the Institute for Early Childhood Education and Developmental Services grew out of an initiative of the Department of Community Services, then Social Services, and the Department of Education in 1976. We have been in existence for the past 23 years, going into our 23rd year. It was a very pro-active move at the time, something we
did not often see from governments, I think, in the 1970's, but two departments did actually cooperate and decided to fund and found this program. It was in response - which was may be another unusual thing at the time - it was a very quick response to a growing need that we could see developing in Nova Scotia and that was the need for childcare. It was growing by leaps and bounds in the 1970's and continues to grow. It was hitting very hard at that time.
The Community Services' responsibility had been to provide some funding and Community Services has been the regulating body for day cares and childcare professionals since that time. The role of the Department of Education at that time was to allow us space and we had that at the Nova Scotia Teachers College. That had been our home until 1996 or 1997 when the Teachers College closed. We are now renting space in the former Cobetec Community College. We sort of swapped campuses. When they went to TC, we went there, the Chignecto Regional School Board offices, we are renting space on the second floor of that building.
We developed a two year program for early childhood educators. We began at that time with 14 students. By the early 1980's we were well over 200 and now we service 300 to 400 to 500 students in any given year. We offer our program on an extension basis as well as a full-time basis, making it available to rural communities, women working. Our clientele are primarily women and we are in 10 locations still within this province, taking our courses to them or they can study over a four year period while they are working and remain at home.
Our reputation grew very quickly as a quality childcare program and with the numbers, as I was telling you, we quickly advanced to the space where we really could not be housed or considered a project any longer. We really remained in project status from the original plan; in 1992 we were privatized. We left the banner of the Nova Scotia Teachers College and became a private post-secondary institution in our own right; however, we are a non-profit organization and I think that maybe is key to our presentation tonight. We are very much non-profit and it is difficult in many ways for us to continue to deliver the kind of programs that we do.
Over this period of time, we have graduated more than 3,500 trained, early childhood educators for this field. Our students, our graduates go well beyond our boundaries. We have graduates working in all provinces of the country, in the Northwest Territories, and they are in demand in the United States. It seems as though we are losing many of our good graduates to these other provinces and to the United States, where salaries are higher and where they can make a better living, and I would think that should be of concern to this province.
Our funding comes primarily from student fees. Just better than 90 per cent of our budget comes from tuition, and 10 per cent funding comes from Community Services and Education and it is almost an even split. These are in the forms of two small grants that we apply for each year and never really know whether we are going to get them or not and we are still waiting to find out. Our costs are increasing as everywhere I am sure, but it is very
important that we stay abreast of this field; this is fast-growing field. If we are going to deliver quality early childhood programs or day care programs for our children, the only way we can do that is through quality education for those people providing the care. We cannot rest on our laurels, we have to stay as updated as possible.
Facing these increased costs means for the institution that we have no alternative but to ask for increased tuition. That maybe doesn't sound like too much of a problem unless you begin to realize the clientele we are servicing. We are providing the Early Childhood Education Program for day care workers, for early childhood educators who, in this province, make an average of $8.75 an hour - and that is an average - so we have many of them who are making a whole lot less than that. For us to have to increase our tuition costs just increases the burden. When Annie gets to her part, she is going to give you some stats that will bring some of that home to you.
As a training institution, because of the field we are involved in we are sort of hit twice, and by that I mean the training standards, the training regulations that we have to live by, that say this is what your program needs to consist of, are regulated and mandated by the Department of Community Services. So they are the ones who tell us we need to have 780 hours of instructional time, that we have to have 500 hours of practical time, that we need to provide a licensed, registered facility on-site in our own building that our own students use and see as a model playschool, day care where they do observation and practical training. This is not the concern for us because that is, once again, very proactive; it is a good step. It is important that our governments realize that education is important and these training standards, even in our minds still, are minimal.
What happens when we do that is that the costs increase. We are now forced into a situation whereby we subsidize our day care, we subsidize our play schools, so that our students have a place to model their education. It is open to the public, parents pay a fee but you can only charge so much. So the institution takes on the burden. We are now subsidizing play school and day care services for this community as well as providing it for our students. Our students who come to us, forced into paying the tuition that they pay, there is no support for them; they have no funding other than student loans.
Once again, when you are preparing people they have to study for two years and the minimal cost for a two year program in our institution where they have to get 26 half-credits, we charge them out at a cost of $300 a half-credit. We make their textbooks included in that price to try to keep the cost at the minimal baseline that we possibly can, but it still costs these people $7,800 over a two year or a four year period in tuition costs alone and, of course, the living costs as a student have to go on top of that. Their only recourse is the Student Loan Program that then puts people hugely into debt after two years of training to go into the field to deliver the service that the province needs, and they remain in debt. They enter the workforce at the poverty line. I feel that we are kind of piggy-backing on maybe the first
presentation that was here tonight, because this impacts mostly on women and children as some of our stats will show you again.
I think I will turn it over to Anna now and maybe you can fill in some of those details.
MS. ANNA MACDONELL: I am going to leave this tape for you to see. It is called, In The Public Interest - The Benefits of High Quality Child Care, but I am going to give you some zingers from it. I think that there is a general idea that we have a very high standard here in Nova Scotia and there aren't very many children living in poverty or women living in poverty or we don't know how bad the situation is.
Almost 70 per cent of Nova Scotian mothers with children between the ages of three and five are in the workforce; that's a lot of women and a lot of children needing childcare. The husband is the sole breadwinner in only 25 per cent of Nova Scotia families. Many women in Nova Scotia, especially single mothers, cannot make enough money to pay the cost of childcare so very often childcare is farmed out to a cheap, whatever you can get. Of course, there are all kinds of issues about shift work and evening work where there isn't even any regulated day care available in this province.
In 1993, 22 per cent of Nova Scotia children were living in poverty. That grew in five years 8 per cent. It has been another five years, so I have no idea what it might be right now. One in six children in this country, in Canada, are living below the poverty line. Three out of four Canadian childcare staff who were the sole-support parents earned wages below the poverty line. So these are the people we are putting our children to their care, they are living below the poverty line, the job turnover is tremendous. We know that children really need consistent care and need to see the same caregiver day after day but, unfortunately, people cannot afford to stay in the field and so they leave, some of the very best leave.
Nova Scotia presently is only able to offer regulated childcare spaces to approximately 11 per cent of those who need the service. More and more families and, in particular, women and children are living in poverty, including three out of four childcare professionals as I have already pointed out. The immediate needs are there and I think the first speaker brought to our attention that there are women now that need the services, there are children now that need the services. But if we want to look at it in dollars and cents, the long-term benefits of providing good quality child care, they are numerous and well-documented; some of the little tidbits we put in your packages will give you that information.
An American longitudinal study that was done over 27 years showed that the return on every dollar spent on child care, by the time 27 years had passed, was $7.00 American. Those savings came from savings in education, so there were less grade repeaters, savings in the welfare system, savings in the justice system, and in that study they didn't look at health costs at this point but they felt that those would be enormous as time went on. Behavioural problems and cognitive deficit in early childhood, which have been shown to be a reliable
precursor to later psycho-social maladjustments can be prevented through quality early childhood education programs and interventions.
Helping children get a good start in life is similar to investing in a pension plan. The earlier one starts, the greater the benefits. Stimulating early childhood experiences are critical for children's development and a significant part of early education. When children are better educated, as adults they are more productive, healthier and thus provide a stronger tax base and require less social and welfare transfers.
High-quality childcare leads to more success in schools, fewer drop-outs, less crime and incarceration, less teen pregnancy and less unemployment. It is obvious that the benefits of a good start for our children go far beyond the immediate short-term benefits for the individual children and their families. Society as a whole benefits throughout the generations, if we act to ensure that quality childcare is available for our children as a priority. It is our responsibility as a society and a government to take this responsibility seriously and to act promptly.
I know that I have been involved in this field for 20-plus years, and not a lot has changed. It certainly hasn't changed as quickly as it should or could. I think, in as far as developed nations go, Canada is far behind.
MS. MILLER: So, from our perspective, to tie it back into the institute, we do really feel like we are in a catch-22 situation. Knowing that we have the expertise, knowing that we know how to deliver quality programming, knowing that we have what this province needs as a major service, our hands are tied when we are attempting to provide this to people when we know we are putting them into fields where they are not going to be compensated or will head them into debt. We cannot let that continue; we can't provide quality care to children if we can't take care of the caregivers first.
The studies will show, and if you get a chance to look at the video too, one of the points that is not really in the write-up is the fact that we know that even today, with all of the things that our children are facing, even in two-parent homes where one parent is home able to look after the child and wishes to do so, that if those families are wealthy enough, they are still putting their children into quality programs because they have learned the benefits of the social development, the things that happen in those group settings. Their children are much better prepared for the school system and the future if that is done.
What is happening because of that, because the system is based on what the parents can pay and who can pay it, we are developing, very quickly, a two-tiered system from the very earliest stages where the haves get the quality care and the have-nots are left with
whatever is left over. This is one of the things that we feel we have to advocate for, and we can't allow to continue.
What we can do in Nova Scotia are many things, but to bring it back to what we think we can do as an institute is to continue to advocate as we do, but to also ask our government to take this very seriously, to become aware of what the long-term benefits are, and allow us, help us do our job. There are two points that come to mind. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, up until about, I believe it was 1996 - it may have been 1995 - I believe the last that it was offered was when we were hit with the 3,3,2,2 kind of cutback system that was imposed, but Community Services did offer training grants as a way to help people who were in the field, in day care communities, who needed to have upgrading, to have education to look after the children, to continue jobs. They did offer training grants to those people.
It wasn't a lot of money, but when you are only making $6.00 and $7.00 an hour, $400 seems like a lot of money, and it does help. What Community Services was able to offer was a training grant where they would pay half of their tuition, up to a maximum of $400. Once again, that didn't come close to covering the cost, but it was greatly appreciated, but that disappeared with cutbacks and so on.
Now there is nothing. The only people who are getting any type of assistance at all would be the few who meet the criteria of human resources development for retraining. Those would be the only ones who would be getting any kind of assistance other than student loans. That is something I think that Community Services could look at and should look at reinstating, from our point of view, and the other is to recognize our school, our post-secondary education facility that we do have. As I said, we are non-profit. Our own instructors and our faculty do not make wages comparable to teachers, professors and instructors in other institutions; that is a given. We just cannot do it, we cannot increase our tuition rates to those costs.
So we, even as an institution, are subsidizing day care in this province, just as the poorly paid childcare professional is actually the person who is subsidizing childcare in this province; it is not the government. Subsidized spaces do not begin to meet the need. I believe it is only meeting 25 per cent of the need of those who even qualify for subsidized spaces.
We feel that with increased grants, with increased support to our institution, it would allow us to make our education facility more affordable, more accessible, more user-friendly, I guess, more able to recognize what we are doing, allow us to do it and the cost would be minimal to government. There is no reason to recreate the wheel, the wheels exists. We have proven ourselves, we are recognized internationally for what we do but we want to be able to continue to do it and that is what we are here tonight to advocate for.
MS. ANNA MACDONELL: I think it is interesting that the other programs that we offer are we train individuals to work with children in the school system as teacher's aides, and also youth workers. I guess we struggled a long time to get people to pay attention to early childhood and people weren't paying that much attention, but a lot of those kids that these graduates, the youth workers and the PSPAs we will be working with could have avoided some of that if they had had good early childhood programs in their beginnings. So I guess we are doing some catch-up stuff in some of our programs.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, very much. Are there any questions or comments?
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair, and I guess I am going to try to tie this in. As we have been going across the province, I noted that we had - towards a universal early childhood intervention program for pre-school children with special needs - now I know that they have asked for a universal program and I know that we are not dealing with that at this particular time.
I do want to go forward to your first page, where you have given us statistics with respect to percentages and numbers on Page 2. I have no quarrel with those numbers because I can't argue or I can't debate them; however, I am wondering, since we recognize that education is a right in this province and not a privilege and that it ought to be consistent from one end of Nova Scotia to the other, and that we recognize that if, in fact, there would be funding to your institution which would train individuals and educate individuals into providing that level of program, I am wondering if you have given any consideration with respect to use?
If I can quote you, you said the cost would be minimal to government. I guess if you have gone through these statistics then, obviously, you have done a cost analysis of what the cost would be to government, and I am just assuming, so if you have, can you tell me what that cost would be to introduce an early childhood education program in Nova Scotia? That is one question. The other question. There some debate and I believe some argument around the quality of life of a child and not to stress too much education - and there is some theory, there are written articles with respect to that - taking the childhood away from the child, I guess, is what some would assess and make note of. I guess my question to you is, how do you perceive that, and my first question?
MS. ANNA MACDONELL: I will answer the money part of it. I know we did run across some stats on that when we were doing the research, but as far as the education part goes, one of the things you will notice in the video and probably something that we very strongly advocate as an institute, is that it is caring and education, and it's not education in the strict sense of instructional mode, we would never prescribe that for children at this age. It is caring, consistent people to be with that child in their early years and as a matter of fact, the early intervention part, the Colchester Early Intervention Program runs through our
institute as well and so I guess we subsidize that because the province pays 75 per cent of the cost for that.
If you are aware of early intervention, it is a trained person going into a family home and supporting families who have a child with a disability in the pre-school years. So we, as an institute, pay the other 25 per cent for Colchester County. We also run a model pre-school and make spaces available to Children's Aid, free of charge; low-income families, free of charge; and children with special needs, free of charge. So we are also subsidizing those services of this area.
MS. MILLER: And you are asking about the cost to government?
MR. PYE: I guess you turned a light on in my head when you said it would be a minimal cost to government, and when someone tells me it is a minimal cost to government and I look at the increasing costs on an annual basis, then before one introduces a program or supports or recognizes a program, one ought to recognize the cost present and the future cost of delivery of that program.
MS. MILLER: I didn't bring the figures with me. We have done this before in previous presentations that we have done, so it will be very easy for me to delve those up for you, if you would like. I guess the point that I was trying to make is that we don't have to create a program, we have a program. We don't have to create the educational program or the institute or the facilities or do the hiring or any of those things; that is being done for you through a non-profit organization and through a school.
From a government perspective, you don't have to buy a facility, you don't have to pay overheads, you don't have to pay those things. We would be looking for our government to support us in our work by increasing the grants, the existing grants that we do get, that we could budget for, to bring it in. If you compare our costs to what it would cost to create a school, the monies that go into the community college system for example, monies that go into the university system and so on, that we are not privy to as a private and non-profit organization, the cost to government is minimal in doing that comparison.
I can draw those figures together if you would like me to do an appendix and forward them on.
MR. PYE: Sure. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further comments or questions?
MR. MUIR: Connie or Anna, you talked about the great lack of qualified day care workers, and I think you said about 70 per cent of the children who are between the ages of three and five, parents either if they single or both working, they are in a day care situation.
The government now is basically requiring a two year program if you are a early childhood educator. Going back to something Georgia MacNeil said back in her presentation, or with the other two people, it is costing them about $20,000 and they are getting $6.00 or $7.00 an hour when they come out. It is pretty hard to rationalize that; therefore, if the government wishes to improve the quality of day care, then supporting a program like yours may be at least one way to help them make it more feasible.
MS. ANNA MACDONELL: It seems that children, until they are five, don't exist in the government's eyes, as far as money goes and salaries goes. Once they get into the school system, the salaries triple, double at least, depending on where you are working. It is well-documented that the first five years of life are the formative years and the most important, so we need to pay a little bit more attention to that.
MS. ATWELL: You mentioned that you do get some program money from the Department of Community Services and the Department of Education. Is that for any specific program within your program, or is it just for operating costs?
MS. MILLER: It is just general funds, general operating funds.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Lawrence Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: I was wondering what your reaction would be to starting school at age three, as opposed to age five?
MS. ANNA MACDONELL: I always get a little bit nervous about that, for the reasons I think I said earlier. We don't want to instruct children and educate children in the formal setting, they need a lot of caring. During the three to five year period in particular is when they are developing socially, and they need opportunities to work those things out socially in an open, friendly, warm environment. Sitting at a desk doing worksheets isn't going to do it for them. I think that we could use some of that money that education has, but we would maybe want to look at how we are going to deliver that service in another way, out of the school system.
MS. MILLER: Another point that I think you need to remember - and this is through Community Services' own guidelines, which of course are based on research and information - the ratio of caregiver/early childhood educator to child from three to five is 1 to 7. You could not put these children in our public school systems with ratios of 1 to 35. We would not be following our own regulations.
When you go younger than that, the ratio drops. If you are in infant care, and infants are classed from 0 to 18 months, it is 1 to 3. The burden is like tenfold for those people who are out there. It is 1 to 5 for that two to three year age group. We know that they need small group settings; we know they need a lot of one on one. It is not education in our standard way
of thinking. It is inclusive; it is the whole child. It is caring and nurturing environments as well as age-appropriate activities and stimulation.
MS. ANNA MCDONELL: They did do that in New Brunswick a few years ago and moved it back to four, and immediately the ratio doubled, so the children at that time, I think, in New Brunswick - I cannot quite remember - but I think it was 1 to 12 and the classrooms went then to 1 to 24, which is not good for the children, not four year olds.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: . . . European studies have shown that mainly male children do not have the ability to put letters together for reading and writing, they blame that on . . .
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: I don't support that, Madam Chair, at all. I could read and write at the age of four.
MADAM CHAIR: I am not going there at all, forget it.
Are there any other questions or comments for our presenters?
Thank you very much. Thank you for your presentation. (Applause)
Our next presenter is Pam Atkinson.
MS. PAM ATKINSON: I would like to say hello, Madam Chairperson, and committee members and everyone here. My name is Pam Atkinson and I am definitely not used to this, so I am going to give this to you from my heart and my family. I am going to speak on small options homes for the mentally challenged and an experience that my son had in 1994. We had him removed at that time - it was not here - due to a lot of abuse. I will try to be very short if I can; it would take eight months, if I told you everything.
He ended up at Cole Harbour, I guess you call it Halifax Rehab. He is now 31 years old. At the present time, since August, he is at Kings Rehab. We are hoping for the violent behaviour to get under control. So, for good behaviour, when they do get them under control, they are moved on into a small options home. Now, the one he was removed from did not have trained staff. They did not have the proper supervision. I believe one person was a taxi driver, who was doing his weekend agenda. Also, I believe there was not that much in the regulations. Now I did harp to our MLA, Eleanor Norrie, at that time, and I have now told Jamie Muir, and Mr. Jerry Pye is well aware of it.
What I am asking today is for regulations for these small options homes, for licensing. Now, I don't believe licensing should be let's make them pay so much money, but there should be grants available to at least help them out, and they should have trained staff with proper care, like a nurse, someone at least trained in that field, and total supervision, and they should be based on their own individual needs, not for everyone in the place. I also would like
to say you do not mix mental patients with mentally challenged, and for the ones who are not adaptable to small options homes, I would like to know today what there is going to be, or if you can suggest something. As it stands, our son is not really small options homes proof. So what will happen to him when they do get him under control and this arises again? That is what I am here for.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Who would like to start?
MR. PYE: Thank you, Pam. I have just recently received your package and did not have time to go through your entire package, simply because the Legislature is now sitting and it is a full day for us. You and I did have a phone conversation around this. I guess most people here and elsewhere understand that I firmly believe in regulation standardization and the licensing of small options homes. I also believe there is something, and we are hoping by going throughout this province, to hear from people with respect to small options homes as well and get their opinion and feedback with respect to this as well. I am very pleased to see that you are here before this standing committee talking to us. I don't want to make any differences between what you have indicated are the mentally challenged and the mentally disabled; I don't know if there is a significant difference . . .
MS. ATKINSON: Mental patients.
MR. PYE: Mental patients, excuse me.
MS. ATKINSON: There is a difference between the two.
MR. PYE: Okay, then I wrote that down wrong. Mental patients versus the mentally disabled and so on, with respect to entering small options homes. We would hope that there would be some regulations and there would be some recommendations from the general public to this committee on how best to address that. We are hearing some, not a whole lot, with respect to small options homes, but we certainly do hope to hear more as we go along. Particularly, there are a significant number in the metropolitan area and I am sure that we will get a lot of representation from those individuals making submissions to this standing committee. So, to make a long story short, I am still awaiting public feedback with respect to where we move on recommendation. Thank you.
MR. MUIR: Pam, I have just one question. If you were to make one suggestion about what needs to be done immediately, what would be the first thing you would say needs to be done?
MS. ATKINSON: Train staff.
MR. MUIR: I guess to follow that up, is that training readily available here in Nova Scotia, that you know of?
MS. ATKINSON: I am not sure. I am not familiar with the local area because nobody here is capable and the small options, I guess, are supposed to be very good here but they do not have the facilities to look after a violent person, which our son is, so . . .
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, thank you, Pam, for your comments. At present, as I understand it, the Department of Community Services doesn't make a distinction between the small options home and what some of us call nursing homes and then of course we have the licensed nursing home.
MS. ATKINSON: You are in the wrong field. A small options for the mentally challenged which, in my mind, categorizing mentally challenged, when our son was born and diagnosed they told us he was mentally retarded, so that gives you no denial of what he was, so there is a difference between a nursing home and a group home in a small options.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, I agree with you entirely, but the point I am making is, at present, that distinction is not made by the Department of Community Services.
MS. ATKINSON: No, but it should be. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments? I would like to just add one or two things to this. It seems to me that people who are mentally challenged and people with mental illnesses have both been casualties of cutbacks that have occurred in our institutions in bed closure, without the corresponding resources being provided into the community. I think your recommendation with respect to trained staff in small options homes is an excellent recommendation, but you can't get trained staff and pay them minimum wage. If we are not prepared to adequately pay people to work in small options facilities, you are not going to find people with health care backgrounds, social work backgrounds, psychological backgrounds, developmental kinds of backgrounds.
I am certainly not an expert on what has occurred here, but I am a social worker and I have taught in the field and I have a lot of people who come to me all of the time and talk to me about the problems with what has occurred around deinstitutionalization. So it is a really big issue and it is going to require a lot of community mobilization, I would say, to make the kind of changes, to get the resources in the community that this population requires. So, thank you for coming forward tonight.
MS. ATKINSON: Yes, I would like to add that we should not continue to put all of these people back into the closets like they are doing now. We should start going forward. Thank you. (Applause)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I would just like to add one thing. I trained in psychiatry and I understand they have closed many, many beds at the mental hospital in Halifax, and we had very adequate, I felt, excepting for the age and the learning they've had now, where there were many trained nurses to do that there, and now they have no jobs and there are no beds open for them. I know that is public health, but it is part of Community Services.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, thank you. Before we continue, I know that there are people who have come specifically tonight to talk more about this issue, and just so that you know where we are in terms of the program, because we did have other people who we committed to some time ago to come and present to us, we still have two more presentations before we arrive at the issue around seniors and the Rocking Chair Haven situation, so we are getting there folks. Hang in, we want to hear from you.
Our next presenter is Greg Hodges.
MR. GREG HODGES: Good evening, Madam Chair, and members of the committee. I hope that I am not going to ramble. I am here as an individual. I am not representing any group, but there are some very specific issues which I wish to raise. First of all, I have been talking with the Chairman of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the local Immaculate Conception Church here in town and we have some very grave concerns about some of the cutbacks that have occurred.
All I can tell you from my brief experience with St. Vincent de Paul is that we are constantly being sent, from Community Services, people who are in dire threat of having their power cut off, lacking pharmaceutical funds, they are being turned away at Community Services and, as a last resort, they are being sent to St. Vincent de Paul. Of course, as a Christian organization, we are doing everything humanly possible to accommodate their needs to the best of our ability; however, our funds are being stretched to the very limit.
I just see the situation as getting worse and worse, to the point where once we hit the wall, where there simply are no longer any funds available, some of these people have no place left to go. They are being turned away from Community Services and we are sort of a last resort. If more money is not put into the services immediately, I just see a disaster looming in the very near future. That is all that I have to say on that.
On a more personal level, I guess I am here as a typical representative of someone of my age or generation. Two years ago, I came back here from Toronto where I was working for a large company making $14.95 an hour. I think I have a vast wealth of experience and knowledge, which is going to absolute waste because for two years I have been banging my
head against the wall of unemployment here. I am currently holding down two part-time jobs, minimum wage, just trying to make ends meet and this is an insane way to try to survive in today's economy.
I just wish to quote some figures I saw on the CBC and CTV news, which just absolutely flabbergasted me the other day, October 22nd. The Centre for Social Justice, a social advocacy group in Toronto, using Statistics Canada figures, basically came to the knowledge that in Canada the middle class, since 1973, has been slashed from 60 per cent to 44 per cent and decreasing. The wealthy of this country have gone from 21 times the average income to 314 times the average income of Canadians. Now, I cannot begin to tell you how sick that makes me feel as an individual and as a Canadian.
I am a very patriotic person. My grandfather fought in World War I for this country and my roots go very deep. I don't want to play politics here. I am simply here to say that something has gone terribly awry. As a Christian, I would just simply be here to look for any help that this committee can give. I just make you aware of the situation that, as things stand now, we all know the terms, globalization, cutbacks, NAFTA, free trade, I could go on and on but that is pointless, everyone here knows what has happened in the last 15 years. Everybody knows the result: the rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting poorer. There is nothing I can do as an individual. I am out there struggling to make ends meet. I am trying to survive.
I pride myself on the fact that I keep up with current affairs and I am very interested in the political and social scene and what has happened. I look back in history and I see what Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to do before and after World War II, the programs that government instituted that helped lift the world out of a depression and then, when the soldiers came back from World War II, how they were given the GI Bill so that they could further their education, which created the longest running, strong economy in the history of the world. I simply am at odds with a lot of the political whims, I guess, if you want to call it that today. I simply think that big business has come to dictate to governments what is happening in our society (Applause) and that scares me.
It scares me that our elected representatives are subservient to someone who is answerable to no one except the bottom line of profits. That, to me, is not democracy; it simply is not democracy. (Applause) Again, I really did not come here to make partisan politics, but I have to call them as I see them. I have to speak from my heart. I have to speak from my experience, my knowledge, my background. I see the pain. You can look around the room. This is Nova Scotia to me, the people in this room. It is not someone sitting in some ivory tower making decisions about, well, if government doesn't play ball, we are going to pack up and move to Mexico or China. If that is their attitude, I don't want them here in the first place.
I would sooner see the money that has been given to those companies invested in retraining the workers here. You don't have to buy the loyalty of Nova Scotians. Give them the funds, give them the training, give them the education, and they will go out and create the businesses, and they will have these businesses here now and in generations to come because the Nova Scotian soul runs deep. I know everyone here knows that.
I guess I tend to get pretty emotional about things like this but, obviously, we are talking about things that do run very deep. I am sorry if I have offended anyone; that was not my purpose in being here. When I see the situation going from bad to worse, to falling off a cliff, then someone has got to say, stop, look at the direction we are going. Take a second look, there has got to be better alternatives. I just think that investing in the people of this province, taking the funds that are being funnelled to programs which may be admirable in their own way but, to me, the people of Nova Scotia come first. If globalization is simply inevitable - and I don't believe it is - then I just see an endless cycle of poverty here for generations to come and that is unacceptable to me.
That is really all I had to say, so I am sorry, again, if I have offended anyone but thank you for listening. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, very much. Don't run away, there are questions and comments.
MR. MUIR: Greg, just a quick question. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, you are involved with that?
MR. HODGES: Yes, I have just joined it.
MR. MUIR: I was going to ask, how many cases would they see, or how many people would approach them in the course of a year and what would be its budget?
MR. HODGES: I don't have that with me, Mr. Muir, at the moment, but I could certainly get it to you; as a matter of fact, the gentleman who runs it is in this room.
MR. MUIR: Kirk?
MR. HODGES: Yes. So if you wanted to talk with him on a private level, he will have those facts and figures for you. Okay?
MR. MUIR: I will see him afterwards, yes.
MR. PYE: Jamie asked one of my questions, Greg but I am going to ask you a question and I think I probably know the answer. When you are here before this standing committee, are you recommending a substantial increase in spending by the Community Services Department?
MR. HODGES: Obviously, yes.
MR. PYE: I guess I am just going to make a general statement, Madam Chair. Do you believe there is the will of government today to put adequate funding into Community Services programs that are needed? I am not talking on any political sphere or partisan politics here. Do you believe that any political Party has the will to put the kind of money into social services programs that is adequately needed to address the needs of Nova Scotians?
MR. HODGES: I appreciate your question or your statement and I understand where you are coming from, and I think that is probably what scares me. I cannot honestly answer that. I wish I could say yes to that; I simply do not know. I would love to say yes.
I look back at the history of Nova Scotia, and the history of Canada especially, over the last 20 years and it leaves me to wonder, what are the priorities? What is the agenda? Perhaps I am going way off the beaten track here, but I have been reading some wonderful books by Linda McQuaig, and they give me great pause as to the direction of government over the last 10 to 15 years. She has offered me great insight as to what has happened, if you will, behind closed doors and some of that stuff has scared me very badly.
I can only say that as a Christian I believe that most people have a good heart, a good soul and when they are challenged to do the right thing they will do the right thing. Perhaps in politics it comes down to something that has to be a vested interest. I don't know what the answer to that is, sir, I wish I did. All I can say is that I will continue to pray for the leaders of this province, and this country, that they will do the right thing. I think they will. I believe in and have faith in my fellow Nova Scotians and I will just leave it at that.
MR. PYE: Finally, I want to tell you that I truly appreciate the tremendous amount of work that St. Vincent de Paul does throughout the entire Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. HODGES: Well on behalf of the organization, I thank you for that.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments or questions from other members of the committee?
I have one thing I would like to say. I think your presentation was very good; it was an excellent presentation. I particularly appreciated the point that you made about the declining middle class and the polarization that is occurring in society. I think that there is lots of evidence that, historically, the fairer the distribution of wealth is in a country, the stronger
the social fabric of that country will be. So I am sorry, Mr. [Charles] MacDonald, I believe I have the floor. I think that that is a point that is very well taken, and thank you very much for your presentation.
MR. HODGES: Thank you, Madam Chair. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenter is John Bower. Good evening.
MR. JOHN BOWER: Good evening. Thank you very much. Madam Chair, I want to talk to you tonight about an issue that I think probably is the reason why a lot of people are here. I have a mother who has Alzheimer's, and I have her residing in a nursing home in Truro. She has had Alzheimer's for about seven years. She has been in three homes, in the last four years, in Truro. Two of those homes were registered facilities. She was asked to leave those two registered facilities and I had to place her in a third one, which is not registered.
I want to state at the outset that the non-registered home is not a small options home. A small options home is three or less. She is in a nursing home. It is not registered, and we are having some difficulty understanding what standards the nursing home falls under. On October 11th, I received a call from the owner of the nursing home to say that she had been inspected by Community Services, and she explained to me some of the situations that went on during that inspection. She also reviewed with me some of the situations that occurred with other nursing homes in the area.
Because my mother can't look after herself and I have, in essence, become her parent and she is the child, regardless of whether she is private pay or not - in this case she is - with what I heard, I did not want her snapped from that home and moved somewhere else. I felt something had to be done. I suggested to the owner of this nursing home that she immediately call those who were interested, family members and other owners of nursing homes, and get together and let's see if we can sit down and rationally discuss the situation that was occurring and what is the problem.
We did that on October 15th. We had 21 people at the meeting, owners of nursing homes in the Truro area along with family members. I can honestly say that some of the stories that I heard were horrendous, with the way in which the representatives from Community Services were asking questions of the nursing home owners, the residents and the family members. It was quite apparent that they were treating the residents as numbers, not human beings. There was no dignity, no respect.
To ask the owner of the nursing home: why doesn't that person call you by name? An Alzheimer's individual hardly knows their own name, let alone the name of the owner of the nursing home; or why is he wiping the dishes? What is wrong with the resident of a nursing home wiping dishes? It is an activity; it is their home; or, why is she folding the laundry? As though there was something wrong with that; and the list goes on.
People are being moved. People who have been in homes for 6, 8, 10, 11 years, government pay. Two days before Thanksgiving, and when asked if they could stay and have Thanksgiving dinner with the family, the answer was no, they are moving. Now if they have lasted six years in the home, where is the risk for another two days? The representatives of Community Services were flippant, arrogant, callous, and had no respect for the people they were dealing with. We are all going to be in that situation at some time and, I can assure you, I don't want to be treated like that.
At the time of our meeting, even though some people had been moved, there was no written documentation from Community Services authorizing the moves. The family members were verbally coerced to arrange the moves. Is that right? I can assure you that if one of my staff members treated our customers that way, they would be fired; no question. So what is the problem? The first problem is that there doesn't appear to be an understanding of the standards, if there are standards. If there were standards, then we wouldn't have the problem of the level of care that is required. The second problem is that it is quite clear that the people in Community Services do not understand the needs of the people in Level 2 care homes. Those are the first people who should be taking the courses.
We intend to pursue this further. I told the owner of the nursing home that looks after my mother that she has no authority to release my mother to Community Services, none whatsoever. If they do, there will be a legal challenge. There has been nothing in writing at this point, to support moving the people, that I have seen.
We think there should be standards and, until we have a clear understanding, my recommendation to this committee is to put a moratorium for 30 days on any movement of any people anywhere until we can get to the bottom of the situation. I would invite this committee, any other family members, or any other nursing home owners to attend our second meeting on November 4th at 8:15 p.m. at Valley United Church. I would also invite the representatives of Community Services.
The third problem is, who is pushing the buttons and why? We don't know. Why is this happening all of a sudden? Maybe you can answer that for us. I have made a recommendation to the panel, a moratorium of 30 days and I would appreciate your comments on that.
MR. SCOTT: The meeting you said you had, how many homes were represented there?
MR. BOWER: Seven.
MR. SCOTT: Seven homes. Was it ever raised at that meeting, concerns about fire hazards in any of those homes?
MR. BOWER: Not that I am aware of.
MR. SCOTT: You have never heard that before?
MR. BOWER: No.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I believe and I think that we owe Mr. Bower some information here with respect to this standing committee. I am sure the Chair will elaborate on that. This committee cannot impose a moratorium for 30 days, 5 days, with respect to waiting, to resolve this situation.
MADAM CHAIR: With all due respect, he did not ask us to impose a moratorium; he asked us to recommend to the Department of Community Services that such a moratorium be imposed.
MR. PYE: Okay, then I do apologize, I misunderstood you, Mr. Bower. I thought there was a recommendation to this committee, as I wrote it down. Thank you.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, John, for your presentation. Your request for a moratorium of 30 days I certainly find favour with and it is very supportable, as a substitute committee member here this evening. You asked who is pushing the buttons. That is extremely easy to answer, because colleague Jamie Muir and I met with the Deputy Minister of Community Services and a couple of - for lack of a better word - bureaucrats. We have pressured the Minister of Community Services in the Legislature to at the very least offer or issue a cease-and-desist order regarding these predatory and hostile moves, until this committee reports back to the Legislature or, at least, its respective caucuses, and that was turned down flat. We did a number of resolutions in the House.
The Progressive Conservative Party - not playing politics - have stood behind the residents. We are not getting into licensed, non-licensed, owner operators. What I am saying, presenter - I am saying to the presenter because he asked who is pushing the buttons - as far as we can tell, and I think it is easy to tell, because I have heard from Liberal members of that caucus that they, too, have spoken to the Minister of Community Services and, as near as we can tell, it is being driven by the minister.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Fire her. She should resign. Right. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald, I believe, was trying to break in on the conversation.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We come to gather information and I guess not understanding the presenters here tonight, I would like to get the information as opposed to moving it that way. We need the information so we can make up our minds as to where we can go and to truly understand the situation here. We don't want a situation where people are being, as has been alleged in different areas as it was in the House today, I don't want to talk to that but I came here tonight to listen and to get the information from the people who are here, so we may take it back and formulate our recommendations to government at the proper time. I think that is the proper way.
MADAM CHAIR: Do you have a question for the presenter?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: In the seven homes you were talking about, the number of people in each home, how many people would be involved in all seven homes or any one of them?
MR. BOWER: I cannot tell you precisely, but it ranges from 6 to 12 to maybe 15, in that range. What appears to be apparent with the inspections in some of those homes is that they are trying to force them into a small options category. Let me give you an example. In a home that is split-level home with six residents, the inspector said you can only feed three people upstairs and you can only feed three people downstairs, and in order to do that you have to put a brand new kitchen in downstairs. To me, that doesn't make any sense. If we're dealing with people that have dementia, Alzheimer's, what they like to do is congregate in a common place, in the kitchen around the kitchen table, all of them, not just three of them. Why split it? So I think that's what they're trying to do but, here again, we don't have the standards.
I would like to make, Madam Chair, another recommendation.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Could I ask a further question, Madam Chair?
MR. BOWER: Sure.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Are these homes licensed?
MR. BOWER: No, they are non-licensed homes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: They're unlicensed?
MR. BOWER: That's right. Yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Government is not paying any portion of the . . .
MR. BOWER: They were, until they were moved. The ones that were moved were government pay.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: The ones that were moved were government pay?
MR. BOWER: Yes. Madam Chair, our little committee - and it may grow in size - we would be prepared from that group to work with the government in establishing and setting the standards for the nursing homes and making recommendations to them. From what we have seen with the people that have been around to the nursing homes, we don't think they're qualified in administering or setting the standards for nursing homes.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I am just wondering, have you made your concerns known to the minister? Have you asked the questions of the Minister of Community Services?
MR. BOWER: Through our representative we have.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Have you received a reply?
MR. BOWER: No. The only reply we're receiving is that people are continuing to be moved.
MR. MUIR: I guess I should tell committee members I did attend that meeting that John and the others had about two or three weeks ago, on October 15th. John, would you mind, a number of things that are contained in those minutes are really recommendations . . .
MR. BOWER: Yes.
MR. MUIR: . . . and I wanted permission, I can copy this and share it with the group if that is something that you think would be helpful?
MR. BOWER: You can table that if you wish, yes, by all means.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments or questions from members of the committee? Mr. Bower, this committee will be meeting next Thursday morning to deal with a couple of matters. The process that we have used is when people bring forward issues to us as a committee, we add them to our agenda and we discuss them and make decisions around that. I can assure you that your request that this committee consider making this recommendation for the moratorium for 30 days will be on that agenda next Thursday morning and we will discuss it. We will let you know what our decision is. That is an open meeting as well. It takes place in metro, in Halifax, in the committee's room. It will occur at 8:30 a.m. on the third floor of the Dennis Building on Granville Street.
MR. MUIR: Which is, if he wishes, go down Granville, the Legislature is between Granville and Hollis. It is on Granville and it would be just a little bit east of the Legislature, on the opposite side of the street.
MADAM CHAIR: The staff, the clerks of the committee, actually have the precise address for people who are interested. I can assure you that this matter will be there for a discussion by the committee.
MR. BOWER: Just a reminder, Madam Chair, our next meeting is November 4th at Valley United Church at 8:15 p.m. It is an open meeting; it is a meeting to look for solutions; it is a meeting to take those solutions and make recommendations to the government; and it is a meeting to protect the people who are in the nursing homes who are currently being arbitrarily moved. We don't find that satisfactory.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
MR. PYE: Just the location, the Valley United Church, Madam Chair, what street?
MADAM CHAIR: It is in Valley. It is a community called Valley.
MR. BOWER: Salmon River.
MR. PYE: Valley, okay, thank you.
MR. MUIR: If I could perhaps, John, if you don't mind, make one other comment for the group, because this was raised. As Brooke said, we did meet with the people in Community Services and, as we agreed, your group is putting together a list of questions and we are going to give them to a person in Community Services. I don't know if that will be the meeting that person will be attending, but we have made that inroad.
MR. BOWER: Thank you very much. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Our next presentation is from Kathy Sanford, on behalf of the seniors of Rocking Chair Haven in Beaver Brook.
MS. KATHY SANFORD: Good evening, Madam Chair. This is sort of an impromptu thing, but as things have been just mentioned about the seniors being classified as a small options, I disagree. I have worked with mental health as a volunteer at the Friendship Club that was mentioned earlier. They are a different class of people and they are trying to function in today's society, whereas the seniors are unable to because of dementia and other natural causes of growing old, and I don't think it is fair to either group that they be classified as one.
The seniors at Rocking Chair Haven seem to be very happy and content; that includes my mother-in-law. I don't think a move to another facility would be healthy for them because of different problems that they have, their surroundings, everything is such a major, drastic change. My recommendation is that Rocking Chair Haven and other private homes not be closed, and yes, there should be guidelines put in place to protect people.
Most of the seniors at Rocking Chair Haven are not government-subsidized. That means that we, as the caregivers, are providing for them, whether it is with their cheques that they receive monthly, or out of our own pockets, to provide them with the extra creams, incontinence diapers, whatever they need. We are not asking the government to fund us. We are doing that as individuals because we care. If we're in a nursing home where it is subsidized, we do not have the say. We believe that the home care given at Rocking Chair Haven is excellent because if you took somebody in from adult protection, you would not find any abuse, neglect, physical, mental, any of those. You would not find it there, but I do believe you would find it when you move these people.
If you were to break it down and pinpoint it, I believe that you would be the ones abusing that senior, because you're disrupting that human being who only has maybe one day, maybe one month, one minute, one second. One of these days, each and every one of us in this room is going to be in that same place.
As for the workers there, they are provided with income, so they're not going to the government for assistance to provide for their family. So homes for the families and income for them is being provided; we are not asking the government to give us money. We are asking the government to keep these people in the private homes because, if you take and you have to subsidize we will say 10 people that are there and being paid by family members, you take them out and you put them into a subsidized place, you may pay $3,000 a month - I am just using rounded figures here to make it easy for calculation - that we are going to have to come up with. We cannot afford to come up with that $3,000. We may be paying $1,000 now, I am not saying we are, but I am just using these figures. That $3,000, you would have to pay extra or whatever the care level may be, could range up to $3,000 a month for ten individuals, and that is a lot of money.
We are not asking for that money. We are not asking for you to take it from someplace else and do it. We want to do it on our own, like we are doing now because we know that the seniors are getting the excellent care that they need. So give that money that has to be taken to transport them, to move them, that you have to subsidize, take it and put it into other needs like family benefits, handicapped, whatever the need may be. Take it, put it into the small options to improve their facilities because we all know that it is needed.
Let us, as private citizens, do what we can to provide for our loved ones the best that we can without jeopardizing the health and well-being of our loved ones. Thank you. (Applause)
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you for the presentation. My understanding regarding Rocking Chair Haven is that there are no fire and safety concerns and, in fact, the fire marshal gave the facility a clean bill of health.
MS. SANFORD: I didn't want to mention that, because I had not heard the results and I didn't want to comment on that one.
MR. TAYLOR: That is my understanding. I have been told that the Department of Community Services has essentially said that a number of the residents have to be moved, they will be transferred to other facilities. I am wondering, are you aware of what the reason is? Why are the residents being moved?
MS. SANFORD: Because Rocking Chair Haven is under the umbrella of a small options home, which had been earlier mentioned as being three . . .
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That is not true.
MS. SANFORD: Okay. Do you want to come and clarify that for me?
MR. MUIR: . . . Laverne Arsenault, she is going to make a presentation.
MR. TAYLOR: I am sorry, I understand that perhaps the operator is going to make a presentation, and that question may be better placed to her.
MS. SANFORD: Yes.
MR. TAYLOR: Thanks.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, if the operator is going to make a presentation, I will wait until that time.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, thank you, very much. (Applause) Our next presenter is Laverne Arsenault.
MS. LAVERNE ARSENAULT: Madam Chair, I wish to thank you very much for having us. I am very sorry we were all misled. We have misled an awful lot of people here tonight who come and support us. We thought that this was what this meeting was going to be about; we didn't know it was total Community Services. Because I am a nurse and I have worked in many areas, I figured I could just about blow your minds with all the things I could tell you about everything everyone has talked about, but, since that is not what I am here for, I will stick only to the three or four things that I would like to say and I am only going to make a comment on each because I have a bad throat and I will only start coughing. I will try not to talk too quickly, I am very long-winded, so I will be brief.
I do have an unlicensed home. I do not call it a small options home, I call it an option for seniors, particularly our community. A lot of the people have said, we want to come here, this is where we are going to come. I have promised the people that I have, over 80 years of age, that they can stay with me until they die or they can stay with me until they leave.
I have broken 11 hearts, I have broken 40 hearts, I have broken 100 hearts, because the people walked in on me, unannounced, when I was sick and still had to help and look after my patients with a mask on, because we do not spread infection. We have never had infection in our facility; we have never had a cold among our residents, except those who came from a hospital, and we have never had the flu. We had our flu shots, and we had to have written orders for Public Health to come in and give those; that saved me taking them to their doctors.
The only thing that I could see that they found wrong with my facility was the fudged water results that they did, because they didn't take it right. We took it and took it to a private facility, and it was zero for coliform. As you know, coliform is a normal factor in most water, they say surface water, but they didn't believe that we were using our drilled well they forced us to make. They thought we were going back and forth from our spring to the well, because we love our spring water. We are not allowed to use it, we have to drink water that is a bit hard, but it had no coliform in it.
We felt that there was a vendetta against us to start with. They told us we couldn't use our sewer, and their reasoning behind that was they couldn't see it and we would have to dig it up. It would cost us another perhaps $60,000 to redo it. So what we did was we called an engineer. The engineer said it was out of his forum, he couldn't do that. He couldn't make that sewer, he didn't know how, call someone better. We called Halifax and an engineer said, have you ever done a sewer before. Yes, I had a license to do it once, but I had to give it up because of the demands from whatever. So he said, go ahead, do on your own. It is your problem if it leaks. You will fix it, not Public Health.
We have never had a leak, we have never had a problem. They couldn't find anything wrong with it, so they wouldn't license us because they won't pass our sewer, because they didn't see it. We have now been told by an engineer in Halifax that they will pass it for us, because they want to see the video they did on it. It is a new form of a sewer, it is a new design, well-made.
What they have in actual fact done is sent in two nurses who were both psychiatric nurses. How long they worked in psychiatry, I have no idea. I do not know what their qualifications were, I do not know what their titles were, because they took me so off-guard. I had absolutely no idea about whether I should introduce them to anybody, whether they were supposed to be there. I even forgot to ask them for their card, which I did the last time, but they were with Mr. Orr and I knew him, so I felt that I had better be quiet, I do want him here.
She argued with me that I had not asked for the fire marshal, that she asked him to come with them. No, that is not right, she might have asked him to come with her to close us down, which he told us, but he couldn't close us down. We had asked him to come two weeks before that because we want our patients to be safe. I don't call them patients, I call them my guests. They get nursing care if they need it, because I am there to do it. They are happy, we practice wellness. That is what the new health care system is all about, wellness and maintaining, and that is what we do.
We have people come to us, they said they would live two to three weeks; they are still with us, and some of them came two years ago. They are moving a lady on Saturday to another home, and she is a lady who has Alzheimer's. It will mean absolutely nothing to her to go somewhere else; it will mean a lot to us. When she gets there, I guarantee she won't last long; probably, one night, they will get up in the night and find her gone. We have to watch her 24 hours a day. She takes "Q one-minute" care, and that means every one minute we have to watch her. She can go out the door faster than you think anybody could, and she will grin and say, I was just going to Debert. When she was 10 years old, she lived in Debert.
That is just an example of some of the things that we do. We do give top-quality care. They talk about trained help. I have no helpers who are trained. I have three PCWs with 11 and 12 years of experience; I have people with critical care training; I have one with a Bachelor of Commerce, a Bachelor of Education, and eight months of nursing and is the best person I have on my staff for the men, because he is a man; I do not discriminate. I have women who work as short-order cooks. I had an awful time to switch them from the top of the stove to the oven, they all wanted to fry chips.
Now these girls are all out of work. In fact, all of the girls I have working for me, including the man, were unemployed and on social services, quite a few of them. One girl made the statement that if they think I am going back to social services and get my self-esteem taken away from me, think twice. Now she is thinking three times. She cried all day yesterday: They will all die, they won't have us. Therefore, when they walked into my home, they took away the home of 13 people, 11 workers and they also took away the work of my brother and me. They have taken away the home my mother had. They have taken away her peace of mind, because she helps us. They have also taken away a lot of other things.
I understand as a nurse where they are coming from. They want proper medication administration, they want safety from fire, there are all kinds of things. I worked on committees for years and years after 37 years of nursing, and I know what they are looking for. I am trying to put it in place, but it is very difficult to do when you have to spend two full days with a bunch of people and you have no idea why they are there. Why are they asking you what your people can do and can't do when they are all private pay? They levelled people at Level 1 that I have that are Level 2 and they levelled people at Level 2 that should be Level 1. They made no sense to me at all; therefore, I am appealing to you now to ask this group to please ask the government, for a few minutes, just to remove themselves from this
situation. Take a step back, and allow the seniors to remain in the places that want them and need them, and they can do so until this committee has time to put forth some of its recommendations.
I also want to tell you that I am one step ahead of the Community Services, because I knew the situation, and I know why they are doing it, because the first question was; how much do they pay? We figured it up, and $64,000 is what they will ask for up front for 18 months, whether those patients live or die. We know that; we know money is the issue. They want to switch the money from Community Services to Public Health. I wasn't getting any Community Services. I don't know why they wanted my people too, but they looked around and found 500 empty beds everywhere and they are just going to throw them in, so that they can get more money out of them, that is the way I look at that.
I just can't see that it is for any other reason. It certainly isn't because they care about these people. All of these people are our grandmothers, our aunts, our uncles, and the next ones, girls and boys, are us. The next ones are us. What are they going to do with us? Jamie Muir, Brooke Taylor - I have forgotten your name - we are all going to be in nursing homes, but we wanted a spa, what happened to that? The economy doesn't allow for that anymore.
I want you to take a serious look at this and tell the government to step back and take time. I haven't done that because of the situation that I have been in. I have told the people, get yourselves your beds, get on your list or all the funded people are going to be moved and you will not have any place handy for your mom and dad, because they are closing us. They have made this agenda and it is done; it is a done deal. I don't feel we are going to be able to do very much about it. Somebody said to me: have you no backbone? Do you need a backbone? It is not backbone I need, it is no emotions. I should be able to be as callous as they are to do what they have done.
It is for that reason I am not working in the hospital either. I have removed myself from Public Health as well. I could not stand nurses being abused with no help and, when we were busy and needed help, they said, handle it. Well I am not handling it, and I am not handling this very well either, as you can tell. We have an awful lot of people here tonight to support us, and I wish to thank every one of them, because they have certainly showed up as friends and supporters, and I am only sorry that we had to wait all evening to get the issue made. Thank you. (Applause)
I also have one more thing I wish to discuss - and it will only take me one minute - because I consider it to be under Community Services. We have a 12 year old boy in our community. He has been kicked out of school more than he has been in. He was flicking the light switch one day, so they expelled him. He teases the teacher sometimes, so she expelled him. I went to several different departments and because it would take too long to explain it all, every one passed the buck. I feel this child has an underlying emotional problem. He used
to come to our house and play: because you love me daddy. His daddy died when he was two years old. This little boy is being put out of school all the time.
I really feel he should have help, but do you know what they say? It is out of our jurisdiction; it is not our department. The teachers have tried everything. We can only do so much. Social services can't help us. If they are 12, they can refuse mental help. A 12 year old cannot make a decision, so that is another recommendation I would have for Community Services: 12 year olds cannot make a decision. I was told by a 15 year old that there is grey areas in your life when you are 15. Why are all the girls going out and getting pregnant at 15? I listened to some people talk tonight about social services, help for unwed mothers, help for single moms. I can see it if mom was left by her husband, or if mom ended up with a baby when she was 19, but I cannot see it when they are 15 years old and they are only getting pregnant to go get an apartment.
The other thing I wanted to discuss with you is about renters who do not pay their rent. These are people who are welfare people. They get their welfare money and they are gone. I feel very ashamed and sorry to say that because I was on that line at one point in time, almost to welfare, when I finished work, I went into the renting business; the sorriest day probably of my life, when I first started it. I even had to take rent from St. Vincent de Paul. Those same people skipped out owing us three months rent, these are people who live on welfare because they figure that they should have their money. They also allow them cigarette money and alcohol money, and so long as you have all these problems Community Services can never come up to the money that they will need to support these people because the situation is so bad that they do not have enough money to live on, and those who do spend it freely. They have dishes, they have everything for their kids that we don't have and I think that I have made the issue of that as well. Thank you.
MR. PYE: I guess, Laverne, first of all, I don't know where to begin. I guess I do know where to begin, I owe you an apology. Yesterday, I believe you sent me a letter telling me that I had misunderstood the concept of small options homes or the definition, the kind of home that I guess Rocking Chair Haven is, in fact. However, I do want to tell you that I apologize for not getting back to you. It was during the Legislature sitting, so it was impossible to get the time to get back to you. I am pleased that I have met you this evening and I am pleased that you have made your presentation.
What I want to ask you is your home, as you had said, is an unlicensed home, it is an option home, that is what you termed it, an option home, an option for the right to live there, I guess is what you are saying. I guess since it is unlicensed, I believe it is an unlicensed facility . . .
MS. ARSENAULT: We applied for a license. She asked me the other day. Why didn't you start with the minister and have us in on the bottom floor with you? They told me there was a moratorium and it was not going to be lifted until they finished their thing, but they
already finished in June. They did not take any time to let us all know so we could re-apply for a license. Now that I have learned what you have to do to have a license, it is paperwork and that is why I left nursing.
MR. PYE: I also want to say that I did make some comments with respect to this on you local radio station, CKCL. I want to also ask you as well, that you say that you have, I believe, 13 seniors living in your residence . . .
MS. ARSENAULT: We have only 11. As of Saturday we will have 10.
MR. PYE: 11. Is that 10th one one who was subsidized by Community Services?
MS. ARSENAULT: The only one we have subsidized is DVA and we asked them to move him because he became mentally ill. He has a mental problem of depression, and he became very hard to manage, but they sent the doctor to visit him, they sent their representatives up. We have settled the man down, he is still with us. They would not move him because "the care was too good", quote.
MR. PYE: So the remaining 10 seniors who are now living at the residence, can you give me some brief description of the nature of the individuals who might live there, with respect to their physical or mental disabilities, if they have any? Can you give me numbers, like some may be suffering from Alzheimer's, some may be disabled and so on, can you give me a brief description of the remaining 10 who live there?
MS. ARSENAULT: The bulk of our patients have had strokes and are in wheelchairs and they all require some help of some kind; most of them need a lot of help. A lot of my patients came from hospitals, so they were very ill when they came and we rehabilitated them. We had one lady come from rehab. She was with me before she went to rehab, and when she came back she was in worse shape than when she left. We rehabilitated her to the point where she can get on and off the bathroom herself; she just needs you to hold her elbow and balance her, and we did exercises so her legs are stronger and she is able to walk with a cane.
We do rehabilitative care as well, as much as we can. We have phys ed come in for them; she lives next door to me, from Truro Home Physio Care, and she helps with them. We have OT. The only thing we did not have that they seemed to think was very important was a dietician to do menus. I lived for 30 years with a diabetic; I did not feel that I needed to have help with diabetic menus. I know the Canada Health Rules inside out because I have nutrition training. I have either been on a diet or trying to lose weight most of my life, so I have certainly learned that you just stay on a good diet. I also had help from the dietician at the hospital, and I call on her when I need to. I worked in the dietetic clinic for quite a while in my training and I did six weeks in the diabetic clinic.
I helped with cataract patients and set up the clinic at the hospital for that. All of my patients either have cataracts - they are all over 80 years of age, so they all have three or four disabilities - some of them have Alzheimer's and one lady had an aneurysm, her operation caused a stroke and she has Alzheimer's on top of it now. I have one gentleman who is totally depressed, he is a stroke patient, and he is very moody. We even get him to come out of his room now, he will even go outside and come and talk to the other patients now, which he has never done.
MR. PYE: I guess there hasn't been any concern from them with respect to administering medication with the number of residents that lived there; has there been any comment about medication?
MS. ARSENAULT: She wanted to know who poured the meds and I told her I did. Now I use pill dispensers and the girls never give one thing without checking with me. All of the dispensed medications, they all have times on them. I have them set up so that times are written on them and everything, it is well-organized. The only thing I don't have that they thought I should have was a dietician to oversee my menus, but when I brought out my two thick volumes of things for homes for special care, that were given to me by my cousin, that was fine. As long as you have the paperwork to back everything up, they are happy.
MR. PYE: I guess this is my final question. What would you think would be the outcome if, in fact, a serious problem occurred in a nursing home or an unlicensed facility where seniors are living in Nova Scotia? What do you think the public perception or outcome would be?
MS. ARSENAULT: First of all, you can't live on what ifs, because I tried that. I also know that we are a bigger facility than most people would realize. We wanted to put in 10-foot halls, we wanted 20 x 20-foot rooms and we wanted 20 rooms. The building inspector would not allow us to do that; therefore, we had to steal from our rooms to make a hall 4 feet wide and we had to steal from other areas, as in putting the wall out 2 feet in order to get our rooms big enough. We had to fight from the time we started until the time we got to where we are now, and now we are giving up because we can't fight the establishment.
If something serious happened, we have a disaster plan in place, or if there was a chemical spill; we have fire regulations in place; and we have now started to get into the training of these girls. I didn't know we were supposed to dig the patients out of bed and throw them out in the winter to do a fire drill, I wasn't doing that. We were telling the girls how to do it and going over and over it, but now we apparently have to take the patients right out of their beds, so we asked the fire marshal if he would like the 92 year old, that we had lying down, to go out in the snow-bank, but he thought maybe that wasn't such a good idea after all.
MR. PYE: Thank you and thank you, Madam Chair.
MR. TAYLOR: Laverne, thank you very much for your excellent presentation. I too apologize to all of the citizens who came out tonight perhaps believing that they would have been able to get on the agenda a little earlier. I wasn't familiar with the format, but I do think this is the appropriate forum to bring those concerns forward.
The mandate of this committee, as I understand it from the memorandum that our caucus received, is to listen to the public relative to what is working and what is not working with the Department of Community Services. I have heard from a number of constituents, a number of family and friends of residents at your facility, and every one, to a person highly commend Rocking Chair Haven. They do, and I say that in all sincerity. (Applause)
MS. ARSENAULT: My only sorrow is that that doesn't help because . . .
MR. TAYLOR: I realize that and we are all at a loss as to why this is being done. I don't think it is unique to any one Party or individual, there is nobody in this room who does not believe in standards, but when the fire and safety concerns and love and affection is being shown and being given to the residents, I think we all have all to step back and take a look at what we are doing and how we may be violating the seniors' rights. The residents have rights too, whether they have Alzheimer's or what they have. Those individuals have rights, there is no question about it; we all share that belief, or at least I trust we do.
Unfortunately, there was an ugly incident in Dartmouth a while ago, where an individual's life was taken as the result of a homicide at a small options home.
MS. ARSENAULT: But it was probably mentally disabled and mentally challenged people or perhaps mentally ill, and that is why I didn't go small option. In the Act for special cares, it states that, that they are mentally challenged and mentally disabled. So I decided to say I was not a nursing home. I am a home for retired people. They get a little nursing care if they need it, because older people all need a little nursing care; every one of them do. I have a lady with angina, and I have to be there lots of times, off and on. I am surprised I didn't get a call tonight because, quite often, she will have one in the evenings.
MR. TAYLOR: Laverne, I just have one question. If there was one message you want us to take back to the Minister of Community Services, what would it be?
MS. ARSENAULT: If someone goes to them for help, that is what they are there for; they are supposed to be representative government. Would they please help? Don't say no, you can't do it and five years later deny they ever saw you. Help them. Start from the beginning. Don't wait until they have everything built new.
I have another suggestion to make for the committee. I know a girl in Tatamagouche who has just built a brand new facility. It is a large facility. Help her with monies to pay RNs around the clock. She thinks she is going to be able to get away with one part time, but you can't. You have to have to have nurses if you are going that large. If it is going to be called a nursing home, if you are going to have all the safety devices, help her pay nurses for a facility that is already there. Don't spend our money on brand new buildings for people who don't need the money, like the doctor from Amherst. Give it to the people who need it. I mean this is just asinine, that is what they are doing.
Five or six of us have new facilities because of all the horror stories we heard about small options, the crowding. I worked in nursing and I am sure three or four of the other girls that own them did nursing as well, even if they are not nurses. Some of them are PCWs, some of them are CNAs and I have to say some of them were the best CNAs I ever worked with, better than some nurses, but yet they are being put down and they have new facilities to get rid of this overcrowding.
MR. TAYLOR: Laverne, we have heard at the licensed establishments - and, in fact, my wife is a PCW at a licensed established - I have been told that at some of the licensed nursing homes, the ratio, especially during night-time supervision, is somewhere between 1 PCW, or 1 employee, to 20 residents. What would you say would be the average ratio in a nursing home such as your own, and ones you know in the Colchester area, what would be the ratio employee to resident?
MS. ARSENAULT: Brooke, I haven't really investigated that and I will tell you why. I didn't want to jeopardize the chances of these girls who weren't trained, or other ones, because I have no idea who are nurses, who aren't, and I didn't want to jeopardize their chances of earning a living or providing work to other people, and I didn't have time to go and check with them to see. In mine, I had four on days, three on evenings and one on nights, and I am always there and my brother is just next door.
Whenever they need anybody, they can call us. In fact, for the first four years, I slept on the floor for a whole year in the living room so I could be there. We had one man, I had to stay right next to him. I slept in the room next to him because every minute he wanted help and he was very insecure. I just stayed right there, but people can't do that. That is very hard, and that is one of the reasons why I am getting out, because it is just too hard to be there all the time. You never have five minutes to yourself. I am sure that if anybody who is conscientious at all, plus to come back to the incident, you have to be there if you are going to look after these people because of the incident rate. You can have people fall or get hurt.
We don't dope our patients, as a result, and I don't know whether other people give them sleeping pills or anything, but we give them as few pills as we can. For example, the DVA man I have came to me with 15 medications and he is now on 5. He has been on 5 since he came and I give him as little as I can get away with and I will tell you another reason why
I do that, because that saves the people money as well. If the patient doesn't need the medication, why should they have it? You get drug interactions, food interactions. A lot of people don't know anything about that and you have to know about that. I teach my girls that, too, because they have to watch those people. They have to know. I do hands-on teaching and I didn't have back-up for that. I didn't have any paper back-up for that so, as a result, it wasn't good enough.
My girls, some of them didn't know anything about nursing when they came and they are the best caregivers that anybody would ever want to have and they love these people. I gave them hands-on teaching for individualized care because that is what I advertised. So they might not be as good in another unit until they learn more, because what I have taught them is just for our people so that they can each have that individual care. I even have social workers come and help me.
MR. MUIR: I thank you, Laverne. You indicated when you built your new facility that you tried to get a licence. Are licenses available now or is there still a moratorium?
MS. ARSENAULT: We just learned that that was taken off in June, but nobody planned to tell us and they have given out beds to other people without telling us this as well. It said it in the newspaper; now I don't even know if that is truth or not. I only saw it in the newspaper that the moratorium had been lifted in June. I am not sure about that, but we also had a lawyer, who we paid $800, no I guess he reduced it to $400 because of who we were and he knew we weren't making enough money to pay him, so he investigated and the moratorium was illegal, because it had not been passed through the Legislature. Isn't that interesting?
MR. MUIR: But not surprising.
MS. ARSENAULT: They said the minister could do this, so I decided we were in a dictatorship. You will not believe how many phone calls I have had in the last two days from seniors and other people asking me how long we lived in a communist country.
MR. MUIR: Just one other question, Laverne. In Truro the people have been pretty fortunate because - in the whole area, the county, I say Truro globally - there have been larger facilities for those who wish people to go to those and, as well, there has been the options, as you have described them. Do you know if there are currently Level 2 beds in Truro, what would be classified as Level 2 beds opened in the licensed facility?
MS. ARSENAULT: As far as I know, at this point in time, there are absolutely no licensed beds. The people who have placed my people now have been placing them out of the county or in other areas.
MR. MUIR: I guess that is really the next comment I wish to make. If people were classified as Level 2 and they had to be moved, it is not likely they could be located in this geographic area?
MS. ARSENAULT: No. A lady called me today in tears asking, can you not take me after I have my hip done? She said, if I have to go somewhere else, I am going to lie down on the floor in the living room with a lily and die.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any more questions or comments?
I have a couple of things. Just for clarification, the home you operate is more than a retirement home; it is not a small options home, but it is not a retirement home, it is a nursing home. Is that correct?
MS. ARSENAULT: That is what they are telling me, because I do some nursing care and I am a nurse. What do they expect? That is what they tell me. I don't want to be classified as that; I want to be classed as a retirement home because we do not run like a nursing home. We have the people come to the table; we treat them like they were our mothers and fathers; they dress in their everyday clothes; and they do their own thing. One of the things she was appalled about - and I mean appalled - was that they have their own choices. If they don't like what we have for dinner, they have something else. She couldn't believe that.
MADAM CHAIR: But it is a place where people are not just retired and independent, it is a place where people require care.
MS. ARSENAULT: That was my dream, but those people are staying home with home care or just looking after themselves. In this day and age, I think you will find that because the people are older, after 60 and 65 they are happier and more active than they were, say 10 years ago, so these people don't require to be somewhere where someone can help them.
I have people who come and go. I have people who need help for three or four weeks or three or four months. Then they come back and I call these my respite care patients. It is not just respite for the family, it is usually respite for the person. They need a little extra attention; they need a little extra help; they have pain in their back. They need regulation with medication because, what happens when they get more meds, they forget when they last took it because they are already taking pain meds, and they may overdose or they are just so painful they need help to get in and out of bed. I take them and I just take them for a short time. I recoup hips; they call me from the hospital and I take them.
How I know, Mr. Muir, there are no beds is that I have had two calls.
MR. MUIR: That was my understanding. As a matter of fact, I did raise that earlier today in another situation.
MADAM CHAIR: I am still trying to understand. So you have a mixed clientele, to use that term, sometimes heavier care and sometimes light care, right?
MS. ARSENAULT: Actually, most of the ones that I have had, I have always had them two years and like some that I have had later, a year. Most of the ones I have are very old and they have not moved and they have gone anywhere. They stay with me until they are gone. I have only lost two, but they are both gone; they were quite old. They classify me as a nursing home.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, you made an application to the Department of Community Services, or Health?
MS. ARSENAULT: Actually, I did both. My first application I made to the minister and that was in 1991.
MADAM CHAIR: The minister of . . .
MS. ARSENAULT: The Minister of Health. The second application I made to Joan Snow because apparently that is where you are supposed to go. She doesn't remember seeing me at all. The third one I made to the Minister of Health and I wrote 12 letters and I addressed them all to the Minister of Health, the MLAs, everybody that I could possibly involve, I did, but it didn't do me any good - there was a moratorium, they said - and Mr. MacEachern was minister, then, and also Jim Smith.
Jim Smith - I wish I had back-up, I have learned, too, since in business, you always have paper back-up and a tape machine - to say good luck in your future endeavours. To me, that said I could go ahead and, when the moratorium was lifted, possibly I would be considered, but now that I know all the things you have to do to be licensed, I don't want any part of it. There is no care for the patients. It is all paperwork and doing your thing.
MADAM CHAIR: So, I guess that is my next question. Are you opposed to going through a licensing process?
MS. ARSENAULT: I am now because they have put us through such hell. I am now. I would like to, but you can't make any money doing that. You just can't.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay.
MS. ARSENAULT: I have to go.
MADAM CHAIR: Just a point of clarification on the moratorium. Although the moratorium has been lifted, no beds have been allocated and that is not going to happen until next year; that is the information that the Minister of Health has provided.
MS. ARSENAULT: Then that is not what is out in the public.
MR. TAYLOR: Thanks, Laverne.
[10:42 p.m. Mr. James Muir assumes the Chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Christine Rector is the next presenter.
MR. BOWER: Mr. Chairman, before you start and before the people leave, I have a petition here that reinforces the recommendation for a 30 day moratorium. If you are interested in signing that, I would ask you to sign it and it will be presented in the House tomorrow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Christine, if you don't mind, I guess we can hear you with the mike.
MS. CHRISTINE RECTOR: I am kind of nervous, so just grin and bear with me. What I would like to see done about social assistance is individuality. Like, for example now, my situation - and I will probably repeat some of the other people that were up earlier - the cost of living in regard to your rent, power, et cetera. I used to live in town in an apartment and with people partying and people coming and going, I chose not to live in that area. I chose to live in my home town, close to my family, which is rural, but my rent is very high. It is above the allotted amount and then, of course, my power on top of that. I am on a budget plan of $93. Anyway, by the time I get my cheque and I pay all my expenses, I have no money left to buy groceries and I take it out of my child tax credit.
Now, what has happened to me, I put in an appeal. I worked three weeks for the Crown Attorney's Office, where I made x amount of dollars, but my expenses to go out working cost me almost $500. I was subsidized day care, however, I could only put her in certain days a week and I had to get a private day care, plus buy shoes to go to work, and transportation cost me $35 per week. Anyway, the bottom line was it cost me more to go to work than to stay home on welfare. Now my cheque is being garnisheed because I made x amount of dollars, which I put on my outstanding bills. If I am going too fast, just tell me to slow down; I tend to ramble when I am nervous.
Anyway, my whole point is I want to work, I don't want to be on welfare. That is my main point, but I find it hard to maintain my self-esteem to be able to work and provide a better life for my child. That's hard for me to do because it costs me x amount of dollars for transportation; child care, of course; clothing; all the extra stuff to work at $6.00 an hour and
whatnot. It costs me for a private babysitter in the evenings and on weekends. I work four hours a week on Saturdays. It costs me $15 for a babysitter to go on out for four hours, but I need that mental stimulation communicating with other people and working. So it costs me more to go to work than to stay home.
What I am asking you is if there was some kind of a plan to pay for those extra expenses, like the babysitter on Saturday, like the transportation to and from, and also getting back to my cost of living, because I moved to a rural area and my rent is $550, my power is $93 a month, and that is before a phone, which I need to find work, which I go out all the time, so what I am saying I guess is that what I would like to see is some kind of a subsidized rent allotment or something because I just can't do it. I get $802 for me and my child; and it is breaking me.
I just have one more point, as quickly as I can. Open communication between government departments, I would really like to see a change in that. I tried to go back to school. Sarah Peppert said, well, go to UIC - or HRDC, correction - find out what they can do. I went there; I got an appointment a month down the road. She told me to go back to welfare and find out what welfare can do. I went back to welfare, and welfare said, well, go to the resource centre and see what they can do. Three months later, do this, I went back to HRDC, I did all this research, went there, an hour with this counsellor, and we won't fund you; it is going to cost you $20,000.
Now, that money that I made working for the Crown Attorney, I was going to use that money to pay my student loan off that was in collections, my Sears account in collections, et cetera, so that I can get my name cleared so that I can get a student loan. So here I am, another year, sitting on welfare, looking for work, trying to make ends meet.
Getting back to the open communication between governments. What I would like to see is everybody know, HRDC, what will you provide, or what can you provide; from Community Services, what can you provide, like whether it is transportation, so that HRDC doesn't pay or who is going to pay for day care because what they told me at the end of all this three months of running back and forth was if HRDC gives you this amount, welfare will take that amount, but nobody made a decision on who was going to pay for what. I would like to see some kind of standard or open communication between the government departments, again, with child care and some of the issues that people mentioned earlier.
As far as welfare goes, again what I would like to see is extra costs for over-the-counter drugs. My daughter is bronchial. Whenever she gets a cold, or even when she was teething when she was younger, I was running back and forth getting over-the-counter drugs, whether it was Tylenol, or whether it was this or that, on $802, where my rent is $550 and I pay $93 for power, not including phone, groceries and whatnot, that $15 is a lot of money when you're getting it every three weeks or whatever, right, plus running back and forth, up to town, paying gas, et cetera, glasses, teeth for me. I would like to have my teeth checked;
my teeth ache and whatever. Just even if we were allowed one check-up per year on your teething or glasses, or whatever. My child doesn't need them, but for other people as a unit.
The other problem that I have is the $200 that you are allowed per month, I believe that if a person goes out working, such as myself, part-time, because of my expenses I believe that I should be allowed to pay my expenses and then have that $200. It should be based on a yearly thing. I only worked three weeks for the Crown Attorney. What's three weeks out of a whole year? If you work it out, it comes out to $150 a month. I am being garnisheed so much money now because I worked three weeks out of a year besides my part-time job, which is Saturday afternoons. Like, what is that? That's nothing. So because I worked for three weeks and felt like a human being again, now I am shot down to having less money than what I intended. Mind you, it was good for my mental stability because I was back out in the workforce and I felt like a human being again. Now I am finding it difficult; it is the after-effects of it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Christine, very much. Do you have questions, Jerry?
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I guess the question I am going to ask you is you said that you put in an appeal, was that an appeal on the fact that . . .
MS. RECTOR: Yes, they garnisheed my cheque.
MR. PYE: . . . they garnisheed your money as a result of you working for the three weeks for the Crown Attorney's Office?
MS. RECTOR: Yes.
MR. PYE: You haven't had that appeal yet, did you?
MS. RECTOR: No. August 13th, I think that was the date of my correspondence.
MR. PYE: So you haven't heard back from the appeals officer with respect to when you will be heard?
MS. RECTOR: Correct.
MR. PYE: In the meantime that money is still coming off?
MS. RECTOR: Yes, that's correct. What bothered me about it was I worked, the first week was the last week in the month of July, and then the other two weeks were in the first two weeks of August. So in my eyes I should have been allowed $400 after my expenses to pay for my day care, to pay for my transportation, to pay for the shoes that I bought to go to work to look half-decent.
MR. PYE: Do you work now part-time?
MS. RECTOR: Just Saturday afternoons at the Sandwich Corner at the Aberdeen Mall.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I just had a couple of quick questions. A number of presenters have suggested that the limit regarding earnings for a social assistance recipient should be raised to a reasonable level and some have suggested that it be moved altogether. So you have been penalized because you worked with the court system?
MS. RECTOR: Correct.
MR. TAYLOR: And once you go over $200, they . . .
MS. RECTOR: Correct.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It is 90 per cent of your gross before taxes after your $200. So your $200 covers your deduction.
MR. TAYLOR: How long have you been on social assistance?
MS. RECTOR: Jessie is two and one-half years, so I have been on since, the exact date was, wait now, I had Jessie in February. I went on mother's allowance, whatever, I think my UIC ran out when Jessie was about six months old, so around October, I guess, or November 1996.
MR. TAYLOR: That's fine. A number of new social assistance applicants complain that before they can receive any help they have to go on this job search and, case in point, a constituent in Hilden, she and her husband parted ways, she has three children, no income whatsoever, and no transportation whatsoever. She was told that she would have to do a three day job search and, in fact, submit 24 applications. I don't believe that policy would have been in place perhaps when you made your application or were assessed so to speak by an intake worker, or whatever.
MS. RECTOR: I have no idea.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes. That's what is taking place now.
MS. RECTOR: What I would like to see is someone who, like myself, I am pretty sure I am going to be getting a part-time job but, because you only make maybe $6.00 an hour, let's say on an average, or maybe $7.00, in whatever field, whether it is in sales, secretarial,
whatever, unless you work for the government - no offence - but it just costs so much for evening babysitters, to travel. I don't have a car, I have to rely on others. I have to phone up my mother or phone somebody and I got to fork out gas money because they don't have it either, right?
What I am trying to say is to allow us our expenses and show receipts. I can send in my receipts for what I pay to keep things legit. Sure. Then give me the money on top of that. Allow me that $200 so I can buy a good snow suit for my daughter, so I can provide the meds that she needs. That is what I am trying to say.
Also because I am living in a rural area and because my rent is so much - it is $550 and that includes my heat and my power - maybe if you could help me with my power bill every so often so I can buy half decent groceries. I am sick and tired of peanut butter and jam sandwiches and Kraft dinner. I cannot buy fruit. Well, I do buy fruit at the beginning of the month but, by the time you get three weeks down the road, I have no fruit left and no money. I have to wait for my child tax credit to come in. I buy lettuce, it goes bad because there is only me and my daughter, so I am limited in the food that I can buy. It is pretty depressing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You made a very interesting presentation and we certainly made note of the points that you have made. Thank you.
[10:56 p.m. Ms. Maureen MacDonald resumed the Chair.]
MADAM CHAIR: We have three more presenters on our list. Our next presenter is Kirk Caudle, St. Vincent de Paul.
MR. KIRK CAUDLE: Thank you. I came here just to hear and after all I heard, I want to share what I have seen in the short period I have been first among equals in the society here in Truro. A lot of things are very frustrating. As I became President, phone calls are always reflected to me with our volunteer members - we are all volunteer members - the reflection of our volunteers comes back to me, and they could not believe the number of referrals from Community Services to our society. It is my personal experience and the experience of all the rest of our volunteers, it is overwhelming. Just recently, because the former president we had, he would fight very strongly to keep the wolves from our door, not the people that we service, but it is more from the people who are referring them to us, we are definitely taking the shortfall of Community Services.
To hear those frequent phone calls each day, of pleading hearts. For instance, a case where a young man is in between a shortfall of getting social assistance, because they moved the ability to give direct assistance here in Truro, and everything is coming out of Halifax, his problem was that he went to the doctor, he had a bad ear infection, so bad that the poor fellow couldn't eat, then we get this phone call, the message from him, saying that Community Services referred him. He said he went down there to get medical assistance to pay for the
medication for his ear. Can you please contact me back? I go back and make contact with him to find out this guy has been sleeping in a tent at his sister's place. She has four or five kids.
I am telling you, when you get there, your heart is really bleeding for these people. I cannot understand. This guy was a legit case. He was in between jobs and he didn't have enough time for unemployment, but yet there was a process at Community Services. Here it was Friday afternoon and nobody could help him. I thank God that we were there able to serve him for his needs. To me, it makes me very scared about where our social services system is going. I can share that with all our members.
I remember, Jamie, you asked one of my colleagues where our funding comes from. Our funding comes from the caring hearts of our people in our church. We stand at the end of each service, a poorbox. Don't ask me how that money gets there, but I see from three year olds putting money into that box, to senior citizens living in the homes that they have been talking about tonight. Those hearts are real. Where is the heart of Community Services in this? It makes me cry and it makes my other members cry. This is a real situation and it is not getting better. All I am here is to say that I am praying for you guys to pull it through. Thank you.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chair, just a question I had asked Greg Hodges. In St. Vincent de Paul, I know you haven't been there all that long, but how many people would you see perhaps in a month? To be quite frank, I will tell people in here, like everybody else I have referred people to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
MR. CAUDLE: Yes, and Jamie, I did ask you to refer them because we do want to reach out and touch those people in need; that is our prime objective. Our last committee report - we have them every month - lately we service anywhere up to 150 people. Not all of them are for help, some people just need somebody to talk to or to be directed to other services, but they are lost, a lot of people.
MR. MUIR: That is quite a number. Thanks, Kirk.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you for your presentation. One of the things that strikes me as I listen to presentations, and we have heard a lot of presentations from people working in the volunteer and charitable sector, the reason we have a welfare system is because charities were unable to deal with the mass unemployment and poverty during the Depression, and charities were unable to deal with the poverty and the mass unemployment following the wars.
For that reason, countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and other western democracies developed what is called a welfare state with a welfare system to try to deal with the realities that there is a cycle in the labour market when unemployment and poverty will
occur, and a safety net. Certainly, what we are hearing is that that safety net is breaking down and the pressure is being placed on the charitable sector, where we have already been and already know that charities are unable because, historically, they have been unable to provide and meet all of the need. So it is very frustrating and your message is one we have heard elsewhere and I am sure we are listening to that so, thank you for your work.
MR. CAUDLE: Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenter is Don MacLaren.
MR. DONALD MACLAREN: Madam Chair, honourable members of the committee, I am sorry I don't have a formal presentation for you tonight because I really didn't intend when I came in to have something to say, but when Mr. Taylor said during one of his speeches that we were here to hear concerns for things that are happening in our area with Community Services, I felt compelled to say something.
I am the manager of the Colchester Community Workshop in Truro, which is a workshop for mentally and physically handicapped adults. We have 50 clients, which is our full capacity. We have great support from the Department of Community Services for the 50 clients that we have at the workshop. We have 10 staff, excellent staff, who provide a work program for these clients who cannot find employment within the working community, but produce a product and products that raise in the vicinity of $150,000 a year to help our operating budget with the shortfall that we get from Community Services for the operation of the program.
What I am here tonight to talk about is the waiting list. Many workshops in the Province of Nova Scotia do not have waiting lists but, unfortunately, we have 17 on a waiting list. Now, we have asked our MLAs before at meetings, is it a right or a privilege to attend Colchester Community Workshop? We have always been told that it is the right of every mentally challenged or physically challenged person to have an opportunity to work. We can provide that opportunity and we have the space that we could rent to bring in those 17 people who are on the waiting list, but we do not have the funding. In rough figures, we would be talking about $150,000 - and to me that is not a lot of dollars - that could take these 17 people who are wandering our streets in Truro, who are calling their MLAs and saying, why can't I work?
The heart-breaking part to me is the young people who are graduating from the special education program at CEC are leaving at 21 years of age, who have a structured program until they are 21 and some of them now have been on my waiting list for two years. In that two years they have lost all structure that has been taught to them. I have them coming into my office two and three times a month, saying, Mr. MacLaren, why can't I come to work?
I also have a great concern for another program that is at our Onslow school in Truro. These young people have been fed in from the closing of the Youth Training Centre. Some of them are more profoundly handicapped than what I am now serving. Just in the last two weeks I have found out that there is a possibility that three of those are going to graduate at 21 years of age. There are eight graduating from the CEC program this year. Now, people will say they will find work in the community. They will not find work; we have to be realistic. I am also the parent who requested my son to go to this workshop 11 years ago. He was not able to go because he required more care than our staff could give so, for 11 years, he has lain on the floor at home watching the television. These other people will be doing the same thing.
I do not have a great number of years left, having retired from working at the hospital for almost 30 years as assistant administrator, but I do have a few years that I can give this workshop some direction and help to support the board of directors who have been requesting for the three years I have been there, is it a right or a privilege for these people to be with us? The information is all at the department and I am not criticizing anyone down there because we do have support for the 50 that we have. My plea is what is going to become, what am I to tell these people? I have the MLAs calling me, how come this person who is in my area has applied to your workshop and they are not getting in? I say, because they are on a waiting list.
So again, I am sorry for not have something formal for tonight, but it wasn't my intention really to do this. I just felt that when I had Mr. Taylor and Mr. Muir present, who know my situation, have seen our facility, and we have a very happy working community, it is great concept.
A couple of years ago Community Services said, by year such and such, a certain percentage of my people should be working in the community. I am sure that the MLAs present - and there is a former MLA in our audience now who has been through our workshop - they know that that is their working community. They are doing normal situations like they would do in the workplace. They are not being challenged by so-called "normal" peers, they are happy. You can come in at any time and you will see how much they enjoy coming to work, how much they enjoy their coffee break, how much they enjoy meeting with their peers over a lunch hour, and if you could see the products that they can produce with help, it is very heart-warming. So I thank you for listening and I would just hope that you would note that so, when workshops are being considered, you will hear it.
MADAM CHAIR: Don't run away. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. Don, I want to ask you a question. You didn't tell me how many people you now have within the Colchester Community Workshop . . .
MR. MACLAREN: Fifty.
MR. PYE: There are 17 on the waiting list, and I am wondering if you offer training programs whereby the business community allows you the opportunity to train these individuals so that they are capable of walking in to the business community, and offering employment programs through the business community so that you can bring in the additional 17 individuals that are on the waiting list. I didn't get the nature of your workshop. What is it, is it a woodworking workshop?
MR. MACLAREN: Well, we have several sections, it is broken into sections. We have a vocational program, where the bulk of our income comes from the production of ribbons and buttons for exhibitions. We do nearly all of the provincial exhibitions in this province and we get an income of $60,000 or $70,000 a year from that production. Those are our high-functioning clients. We have another number of clients whom we call pre-vocational program. These clients are not as high-functioning as the vocational ones. The term, pre-vocational is misleading because they don't move from pre-vocational to vocational, but that is the provincial term. These clients do more with life skills and out in the community for skills like that.
Being one of the oldest workshops in the province, not that we are the oldest, but we were a retarded children's workshop for years before, known as the Butler Centre. In 1987, Community Services combined Jobs Unlimited and Butler Centre - Jobs Unlimited was a physically handicapped workshop and Butler Centre was mentally - we were the first workshop in the province to combine both. We do not have any physically handicapped clients now, they are all mentally challenged. We also operate a new-to-you and indoor yard sale, which the community has supported for the last two years. This is working well, it is very client-friendly. The clients operate the store. They wait on the customers; they take the cash; they wash the clothing that comes in; they dry it; they put it on the racks; they price it; and they do a very normal business in that line, under the supervision of two of the instructors.
MR. PYE: Maybe I am wrong in my assumption of the Colchester Community Workshop, but wouldn't that be similar to DASC Industries in Dartmouth and wouldn't it be similar to Lake City Woodworkers in the sense both of them offer a training program whereby some do go out into the community and, even though they are mentally challenged individuals, do get employed in the community?
MR. MACLAREN: I am not sure which it is, whether it is DASC . . .
MR. PYE: DASC does a bit and Lake City does more . . .
MR. MACLAREN: One of those workshops, most of their clients are mentally ill, which is a big difference between that and mentally challenged. These people fit into the community quite well, we don't have any of those, our clients are all mentally challenged. We find that there are very few businesses in Truro that have the opportunity to use the mentally challenged. The program at CEC does put them into placements from time to time, but there
is so much unemployment with graduates from the normal Grade 12 program and we have university people walking the streets, they cannot compete. Most of the ones that I have anyway are too challenged.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any further comments or questions? Thank you, very much. Our next presenter is Walter Collins.
MR. WALTER COLLINS: The first thing I would like to do is thank you people for staying this late. I know it has been a long day from when you start. The first thing I would like to say is that the lady that owned Rocking Chair Haven is my sister, so you will know where I am coming from. One thing that she mentioned is she didn't want a license. Three days from now, after this trauma is over, she wouldn't mind having a license if you could see fit.
The second thing I would like to say is that I started back in 1963, or in there somewhere, on the school bus. The topic was John Diefenbaker, Bob Stanfield and Lester B. Pearson. Since then, this country has gradually gotten in worse shape. I might sound funny when I say we are either in a dictatorship or a feudal system, I don't know which, but we are looking for a Robin Hood. Are you people Robin Hood, so we can go and get rid of Prince John and get King Richard back here? It sounds funny coming out of me that way, but people are getting disgusted.
The government walks in and they take over. There are no more small farms; there are no more small logging people; there is no small fishing; and now there are no more small businesses. Yet they will stand up and tell you that small business is the backbone of this country. If small business is the backbone of this country, why are they tearing them down? Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other people in our audience tonight who would like to speak?
Yes. Come forward to the microphones, please. Can you identify yourself for the record, please. Thank you.
MS. FRANCES TOOLE: I am Francis Toole and I am here to speak about the senior's situation. I just want to ask one question. The licensed homes, how often is an assessment done on them? Who looks after them? It is my understanding that one individual in this province owns a lot of these licensed homes. Is this a problem?
Mr. Pye, you asked Ms. Arsenault a question, what if an emergency happened? Very close to our large, licensed home, we have Irving Oil with a large number of propane tanks. That is a what if; that is an emergency.
Earlier in the evening, someone said that the committee was here to gather questions and circumstances to take back and we should be contacting people. I have spent one week, many hours, many telephone calls, contacting people and I have only had three people answer my calls. Those people were not the minister or the deputy minister, they didn't return my calls. They never never answered my questions. They never answered the faxes that I sent to them regarding the situation.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there comments or questions? I didn't have a chance, when the operator was talking, to talk too long because she was called to an emergency at her home, but I would like to say that listening to people here tonight and the way in which the department came in is upsetting to people, and I would be upset if that happened to my parents.
MR. MUIR: Anne's father is in a different place.
MADAM CHAIR: It is in a different place. Anyway, that is a very upsetting thing to happen, you know, to have people moved without a process that is acceptable to family members and what have you. We will have this on our agenda next week to talk about the issue. I would also like to say though that the Standing Committee on Community Services is doing the process around welfare reform. That is part of the reason why we have kept people so long before they could speak tonight. We hadn't anticipated, I guess, that the small options issue would become a predominant part of this meeting tonight and I am glad we could make the space for it. I am not sure how people were led to believe that that is what we were doing but that, in fact, was not what we were doing, but we will be happy to take it up.
MS. TOOLE: Well the timing was certainly right for you to be here. I would just like to add, everyone has a job to do and some of the calls I made last week, two people who have positions, they weren't very nice people. I realize they have a great deal to deal with but, when you are dealing with the public, you have to try to smile and answer politely and these people did not. I even asked one of the workers if seniors had rights. I asked her if my mother had any rights and, after she rolled her eyes she said, no. I believe she has, everyone has rights.
MR. TAYLOR: I just have a quick question, Ms. Toole. What is the status of the decree that has been issued regarding your mother moving? What is taking place now, if you don't mind?
MS. TOOLE: At this point we have received no word on it. They have just done an assessment on my mother, but there has been no word as the report has not come back as yet.
MR. TAYLOR: And she is assessed at Level 2?
MS. TOOLE: Yes.
MR. TAYLOR: Okay, thanks.
MADAM CHAIR: She is in a home that is unlicensed, is that what you are saying?
MS. TOOLE: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: But it is not the one that we have heard about?
MS. TOOLE: No, it is not and she is receiving excellent care.
MADAM CHAIR: How many homes are we talking about that are unlicensed, that are subject to this review, do you know that?
MS. TOOLE: I don't have that number.
AN AUDIENCE MEMBER: There are 420 in the province.
MADAM CHAIR: There are 420 in the province.
AN AUDIENCE MEMBER: I would like to ask you, why is this word "licensed" so important? My son has been in a licensed nursing home for 21 years and if we don't go and clean him up, he doesn't get it. They bring in all kinds of workers until they get their accreditation and then they let them go. You have the wrong concept about licensed, that is not the word you should be using. That is what you look for, licenses, paperwork . . .
MS. TOOLE: The bottom word is happiness and care for the resident.
MS. ATWELL: I just wanted to ask, does the family have no say as to where, for example, should go or which home she should be in?
MS. TOOLE: The caseworker was unable to tell me if she would be moved or if she would not be moved. I asked her if she was going to be moved what the situation would be. She said, we will give you three or four options, you will have a limited number of days to choose and, if you do not choose, we will. We know the options are going to be these large, licensed institutional homes.
AN AUDIENCE MEMBER: At the other end of the province.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other people who would like to make a presentation or a comment?
MR. FAULKNER: I would just like to make one comment that I think is the root of the entire problem, and that is that the government in Canada, provincially and federally, is very rapidly approaching that of Adolf Hitler. I don't like it and I think there are a lot of people who don't like it. There are too many people sitting on their butt doing nothing about it, but we have to, as a society, take the bull by the horns and straighten this out.
The pepper spray in Vancouver is one thing, but this kind of stuff, ripping people out of homes here in Nova Scotia, all of this business, the four years that I fought Community Services, for what purpose? Why are they not welcoming me? I met everybody else as well. Like I say, the government system has gone berserk. There is too much government and not enough listening to private citizens. I would like to say, for the record, whose country is this? The country does not belong to the government; the country belongs to the people. The government should work for the people and it is about time that we, as a society, make damn sure that is the way it works. Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. If there are no more comments, we will adjourn. Thank you all for your comments.
[The committee adjourned at 11:28 p.m.]