Group home shutting because of lack of government funding, commitment

Trying to start a supported living facility in Sylvan Lake has been frustrating.

Dear Editor,

Trying to start a supported living facility in Sylvan Lake has been frustrating.

In August of 2012 we bought a duplex in Sylvan Lake with the idea of starting a group home in Sylvan Lake. We were told that the need for providing this service is great and a real shortage of beds exists especially when dealing with people with mental illness and/or those with developmental disabilities.

Operating in good faith, and with many years of experience in the social services field, we were confident of being able to provide a high quality service and the Town of Sylvan Lake seemed a logical place to get started.

Little did we know that this process would prove to be difficult with many hurdles to cross. We did not realize the process was going to be this much work for this good cause.

We were able to get all municipal approvals and subsequently get many applicable licenses including the Alberta Health inspection, fire inspection, building inspection and finally the license for the Alberta Supportive Housing Standards.

Many of these licenses and inspections are major hurdles, but we crossed them all.

Next step was to contact agencies that are in charge of managing government funds for service providers. This proved to be the greatest hurdle of all; not only did we not follow the norm of asking for government capital funding, but in our ignorance, we did not follow the procedure of establishing a contractual relationship before we started.

We believed that rather than asking for government funding to purchase a home (a process that could take a year), we purchased the facility ourselves (possibly foolish move), and furnished the duplex with everything needed to run this type of facility.

In spite of the unconventional way we got all the pieces together, we are now in total limbo.

Government agencies are telling us that Alberta Health Services has no money to spend for services that would have people presently in hospitals (some for as much as years) move into the community with a high level of care.

You would think that if clients would be better served in a community setting, at a much lower cost with a higher quality of life, that this would be a no brainer. All government reports (policy papers, etc.) talk about the need for more community facilities such as ours.

There is no lack of residents looking to get placed in the community; there is, however, a lack of available beds.

One would think that our model of privately financed facilities would be a welcome sight for our cash strapped government. Here we are providing a beautiful set-up; with eight bedrooms, four full washrooms, a double kitchen, and in a great location … just waiting for a government agency to allow us to get going. This is not about qualifications either, as both my partner and I are well qualified and able to provide high level care.

Another agency we are dealing with is Persons with Developmental Disabilities. We have not been told that there is no funding, but instead, were informed that the process of becoming a service provider may take as long as 12 months, or longer.

It is all about the accreditation process which depends a lot on your written proposal. We did write a proposal and comments were made to make some additions and changes.

These changes would be required in order to meet the standards as set out by PDD. This process would not take long, maybe a week or so, but still final approval will take up to a year. Now, that Aspen House has been operational for eight months, we continue to run into barriers. We populated the house with adults having a variety of mental health needs. We are charging a nominal fee to provide for a furnished house with individual bedrooms, great food, cable television, etc. A lot of these accommodations most of us expect to have in our homes, too.

Unfortunately, without government support, the finances have barely been able to support one staff member. I work between 60 and 70 hours a week, and am on call to the needs of the residents on a 24-hour a day, seven day a week basis. The business manager had to step down from his active position due to lack of funding.

A lot of the services provided in Aspen House are as follows:

1. Teaching life skills and the responsibilities of independent living skills. This would entail that from doing house chores, personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, yard maintenance, etc.

2. Setting up menus, grocery lists, and teaching the residents shopping techniques in the community.

3. Setting up family doctors, dentist, optometrist, specialists, mental health, and psychiatrist appointments for all residents and supporting each to attend. (both in Sylvan Lake and Red Deer)

4. Administering medications, up to three times a day, for those residents that require this service.

5. Provide community integration to attend i.e. swimming at the pool/beach, bingo, library access, shooting snooker, bowling, movies, fishing, watch softball/hockey games, walks in the community, church activities, etc.

6. Communicating with significant service providers to attain the best service for these individuals i.e. Public Guardians, Trustees, Social Workers, Employment Services, Mental Health, Probation, and families.

7. Organizing pharmacies to handle medications.

8. Provide support for those who have been able to gain employment.

9. Attend and address a variety of service organizations for support. i.e. Lions Club, Rotary, etc.

10. Go shopping with individual residents for personal items i.e. clothing, rec supplies, etc.

11. Attending volunteer activities in the community.

12. Just going for a drive and/or coffee.

These are a number of the services provided for up to eight residents on a weekly basis by one staff member.

Unfortunately, I am needing to close Aspen House as services seem impossible to be rendered by one person with no support funding. It seems that our government does not support the need for this service to be provided in our community at this time.

Robert McFadden,

Sylvan Lake