HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s decade-long plan to move people with disabilities out of institutions and into small community homes is grinding along so slowly some parents fear they’ll die before proper care is provided, says a report examining the strategy.
The survey released on Monday by the Community Homes Action Group contains criticism of the Liberal government’s pace of change — and examples of parents’ worries.
“Our son is an only child living with aging parents and with no extended family in Nova Scotia. What will happen when we die?” said one parent quoted in the report.
“He needs .. autism appropriate housing and he deserves to have it before we die so that we can help with the transition.”
The parent adds that only a crisis would leapfrog their son to the top of a waiting list to shift into another form of care — a list the province currently estimates at 898 people.
About three quarters of the 137 people who answered the survey — including parents, caregivers, health care providers and people with disabilities — rated the pace of shifting people out of institutional-style facilities into community homes as “poor.”
The survey also suggests 75 per cent of the people surveyed say there was poor progress in decreasing wait time for services, and similar levels of dissatisfaction over efforts to find work for people with disabilities.
The advocacy group said during a news conference that when the so-called roadmap was introduced by the NDP in 2013 and then accepted by the Liberal majority government, it created a sense of hope among caregivers and people with disabilities.
Three years in, the report card concluded that while there have been small signs of progress, the roadmap is becoming “a winding country lane.”
“Overall, aging parents are extremely anxious about their loved ones and they realize that being able to live in a small options home for their son and daughter is a distant dream,” said Lois Miller, a board member of the Independent Living Nova Scotia Association.
Joanne Bernard, the minister of Community Services, said in an interview she believes the Liberals will largely complete the goals of the 2013 Roadmap for Transforming the Nova Scotia Services to Persons with Disabilities Program if they’re re-elected to another majority government.
However, she also said the transitions of people from the mid-sized residential facilities can’t be rushed.
“We’re going to do it responsibly and we’re going to do it with the choice offered to every client we work with and their families,” she said.
“I’ve looked at other jurisdictions that have done it quickly and they’ve had not only failures, but they’ve had tragedies. … We’re going to do it right.”
A spokeswoman for Community Services says the province’s disability support program’s budget is $319.3 million, including $3 million for new initiatives.
The new money has helped 16 people move to new homes, while the department expects about 40 people will be moved by June 30.
However, 1,341 people remain on a wait list, including 898 requesting a different form of support and 443 people awaiting some form of support.
Bernard said the wait list is up from 1,100 reported in June 2016 because of a growing number of aging parents who are signing up to have their adult children admitted to care.
“This is not a demographic that is going to decrease in Nova Scotia. This is … going to increase,” she said.
The minister said she can’t comment on whether the demographic shift will result in a further funding increase in the April 27 provincial budget.
She said the department is “at a jumping off point now where there will be some investment in the bricks and mortar in the near future so people able to move from the larger residential facilities have a safe choice to go into the community.”
The report argues that Nova Scotia should stop admitting people with disabilities into the residential facilities.
Joe Rudderham, the executive director of the Disability Support Program, said there are no more long term placements in the residential facilities, but there are some short-term placements being made.
He said there is no firm date yet for when admissions will cease, and there is no specific target for 2017-18 for the number of smaller options homes to be created.