“Community Living” not a panacea for people with developmental disabilities

Twelve years ago this month the residents and staff of Huronia Regional Centre (then a specialized care centre for people with severe developmental disabilities) in Orillia, Ontario got the thrill of a lifetime when Pope John Paul II pulled up to their Lake Simcoe shoreline in a cabin cruiser.  He was taking a break from World Youth Day festivities in Toronto.

As the Huntsville Forester reported, staff and residents got into paddle boats and swarmed around the Pontiff’s cruiser.  Priests tossed rosaries to the seaworthy crowd.  The Pope and his entourage were moved by the happy residents and caring staff.

“Residential program co-coordinator Debbie Leach was stationed in a paddle boat behind the cruiser when a nun turned in her direction, and motioned for the priests to throw a rosary her way. She had a beautiful smile, she was crying, said Leach. It really struck me.’’

This is quite a different picture of Huronia than most people have.  It doesn’t match the myopic view portrayed last fall in media reports of the lawsuits that allege abuse here and at other regional centres.  It begs the question, if abuse at Ontario regional centres was an issue why didn’t it come up during the Pope’s visit to Huronia?

Consider the group home resident who is bounced from group home to group home because the staff cannot handle this person’s difficult behaviour.

Consider the group home resident who is confined to a wheelchair because of unskilled staff and loses the ability to walk.

Consider the group home resident who is scalded in a bathtub because of a lack of supervision.

Consider the group home resident who chokes to death because of a lack of supervision.

The politically correct “community living” approach is not a panacea for people with developmental disabilities.  Tragedies can occur in large or small settings.  No one approach has all the answers for people with developmental disabilities.  That’s why Manitoba created the Manitoba Developmental Centre, which blends measured integrated living with intense specialized care.

As Pope John Paul II observed on that warm July day at Huronia, it matters not the location of care, but how conscientious, aware and skilled the people are who give the care.

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