A long road to ‘community living’

Thirty years ago, the debate over caring for developmentally disabled people was mostly about union jobs. It still is.

Sign left from BCGEU occupation of Tranquille institution in the summer of 1983. The buildings were abandoned after it closed the following year.

VICTORIA – My first glimpse of B.C.’s care system for developmentally disabled people was as a teen in the early 1970s.

My grandfather brought me to his workplace, Tranquille “school.” The Kamloops institution that began life as a tuberculosis sanitorium in 1907 was by then converted to warehouse a different group of society’s outcasts.

Ambulatory inmate-patients wearing locked-on football helmets wandered the courtyard of a sprawling prison-hospital complex that featured its own fire station.

Tranquille would hit the headlines a decade later, when Human Resources Minister Grace McCarthy announced that she was enacting a plan, years in the making, to close such places. Tranquille, with 323 inmate-patients and 675 staff, would be first.

A 1983 newspaper report captured the mood: “Mentally retarded persons in institutions must not be ‘dumped back on the doorstep of their natural families’ when these institutions are closed, the executive director of the B.C. Association for the Mentally Retarded warned Monday.”

The B.C. Government Employees’ Union began an occupation of Tranquille buildings the next day, expelling managers. The sit-in lasted three weeks, joined by Tranquille’s 120 psychiatric nurses, before staff agreed to work on the system that would replace it a year later.

Some patients did go back to their families, with support services. And today B.C. has a network of 700 group homes, essentially smaller institutions. Their province-wide union contract was just renewed under the B.C. government’s “net zero” wage mandate, with an additional $18 million to enroll employees in dozens of contracted agencies to a pension plan for municipal employees.

Lobbying and court action have forced expansion of provincial services to those diagnosed with autism and fetal alcohol conditions. People with Down syndrome and other disabilities now live much longer, to the point where some develop dementia as well. All this is on top of the many previously independent seniors developing dementia and other disabling conditions at an accelerating rate.

Stephanie Cadieux, the latest minister of what is now called Social Development, has asked for a multi-ministry examination of the adult care agency, Community Living B.C. As CLBC’s budget rises past $710 million, there are services from the health and children and families ministries going to disabled people as well.

The political focus has been on CLBC’s closure of 65 group homes with only 200 residents, and its push for adult adoptions rather than institutions with shift workers. This is true “community living” that should be established where practical, with appropriate inspections.

The NDP wants a moratorium on group home closures, even if they’re decrepit or mostly empty. It wants a backlog of 2,800 applications for new or increased service eliminated, apparently without any efficiency moves. It wants an “independent review” of CLBC followed by a full-time independent advocate for developmentally disabled people.

(The NDP also wants independent advocates with office staff and investigative powers for seniors and forest workers. B.C.’s independent children’s advocate continues to pile up reports with questionable effect in another area of intractable and growing social problems.)

Cadieux says CLBC’s internal service quality advocate has a high success rate resolving family complaints. A toll-free line has been set up to direct service issues to a new client support group.

On Friday Cadieux announced that a bonus program for CLBC management has been terminated. “In a people-first organization like CLBC, an incentive plan based on targets and measures is, quite simply, not appropriate,” said a statement from the ministry.

No targets or measures. As Premier Christy Clark was recently reminded on health care, even talk of defined cost control is too politically risky.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Just Posted

It’s the last day to vote in B.C.’s referendum on electoral reform

Ballots must now be dropped off in person to meet the deadline of 4:30 p.m.

How to decide what to vote for in B.C.’s referendum on electoral reform

Ballots are due at Elections BC on Friday, Dec. 7, at 4:30 p.m.

COLUMN: The People’s Party of Canada arrives in the Kootenays

‘The Conservative Party of Canada walked away from us,’ says organizer of Kootenay-Columbia and South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding associations

Lawyer for Chinese exec detained by Canada says it’s ‘inconceivable’ she would flee

Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport

Federal government plans examination of coerced sterilization

The Liberals have been pressed for a rapid response to recent reports on the sterilizations

Huitema, Cornelius named 2018 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

Huitema was captain of Canada’s fourth-place team at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Liberal Party moves Trudeau fundraiser from military base

The fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 19, with tickets costing up to $400

Pipeline protesters arrested at B.C. university

Three protesters were arrested after TRU property allegedly vandalized with red paint

Goodale to ‘examine’ transfer of Rafferty to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

‘Abhorrent’ condition of autistic B.C. boy shows flaws in care system: report

‘Charlie’ was underweight and ‘covered in feces’ when he was removed from his mom’s care

Minister appoints former CIRB chair to resolve Canada Post labour dispute

Postal workers engaged in weeks of rotating walkouts

Most Read