Huronia et al Settlement Unsettling

Last December, settlements were reached in class-action lawsuits that allege abuse at three former regional centres (Huronia, Rideau and Southwestern) operated by the Ontario Government for people with developmentally disabilities.  The total cost of the settlements is $68 million.

Just as outdated medical practices are replaced by new approaches, so to with the treatment and care of people with developmental disabilities.  The Ontario Government, to its credit, recognized long ago the need for improvements in regional centres.  Millions of taxpayers’ dollars were spent; vast improvements were made, e.g., Huronia’s McGhie Apartments.

As a result, many Ontario families through their centre’s families’ association worked tirelessly for over 30 years to keep the regional centres:  Huronia, Midwestern, Oxford, Rideau and Southwestern open because of the excellent care provided for people with developmental disabilities by professional, qualified and dedicated staff.

Is the “community living” system of group homes scattered across Ontario without incident?

Mr. Bobby Windover, 67, at death, moved from Huronia to an Orillia group home in the early ‘90s.  He was moved from group home to group home, each with less supervision.  His nephew, Brad told the Toronto Star he would see “his uncle wearing sweaters on hot summer days and no coat in the winter, wondering around town.  He lost 60 lbs.  He moved out of Huronia where his diet was controlled and he had a structured environment and acquired diabetes after entering the group home environment.  I watched his demoralization and his life fade away.”1 Bobby died in 2004.

Mr. Stewart Franklin was transferred from Huronia to a Toronto group home.  There was high staff turnover and they could not deal with the complex needs of the residents.  The Toronto Star reported:  “Stewart suffered a grievous injury and was hospitalized for three years until he died in May 2005.”2 No inquest was held.

Is the “community living” system meeting the current demand for services?

The Hamilton Spectator brought to light the case of Mr. Eric Jensen, 46.  During a recent hospital stay for the stomach flu, Community Living Hamilton (CLH) informed his family (via a phone message) that “Eric is not allowed to come home” to his group home of 26 years.  CLH later said this was a misunderstanding.  Eric had bowel surgery last summer and was outfitted with an ostomy bag.  CLH now say that Eric has a complex medical need, which requires special support; Eric’s doctor and family do not agree.

Then there is Mr. Philippe Telford, 19, who has severe autism.  The National Post reported that his parents, desperate for help, dropped him off at the Ottawa office of Developmental Services Ontario because they could no longer handle Philippe.

How many such cases go unreported?

These examples show how prophetic the Huronia Helpers, the former families’ association of Huronia Regional Centre, were when they told the Toronto Star in 2006:  “the overburdened group home system can never provide the range of services, health care and safety currently enjoyed by residents (of Huronia).”3

From a clinical standpoint, Dr. Brian Hennen M.D., who has studied the impact of “deinstitutionalization” around the world, echoes this concern.  He has cautioned against the closure of all (comprehensive care) centres.  There is a lack of commitment by some governments, he says, to provide the necessary supports for people with “severe, combined disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health challenges.  These individuals may require continuous, specialized, experienced, collaborative and integrated management, which is unlikely to be found in most domains.”4

The Government of Manitoba understands this reality and in a wise move transformed a former institution into the Manitoba Developmental Centre.  This is a home for 220 residents whose mental disabilities require “intensive, long-term care.” The centre cares for residents whose behaviours may be a risk to themselves or others.

Given the lack of appropriate developmental services in Ontario (exacerbated by the void left by the closure of all the centres) and the burden of debt that the Province of Ontario faces, perhaps the settlements that total $68 million, which includes 14 million in legal fees, should be directed at Ontario’s developmental services system to benefit ALL people with developmental disabilities.

It is evident that the irrational push to close all centres in Ontario is an example of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

———–

1. Crawford, Trish. 2006.  “Fragile Fighters,” Toronto Star, December 1.

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

4. Hennen, Brian. 2007.  “Priorities for Persons with Developmental Disabilities and Their Families in 2006.” Developmental Disabilities Division Clinical, Western University, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1.

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