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Group-home agency threatens to end deal with province

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BRANDON -- The provincial government needs to change its funding model before 30 adults with intellectual disabilities are displaced, a not-for-profit organization that cares for them says.

Southwest Community Options (SCO), which runs nine group homes in Killarney, Ninette and Baldur, can no longer afford to provide care with the funds allotted them, executive director Ron McCullough said.

"The province has very high service-delivery expectations, as they should, and the funding levels do not match those expectations,"àMcCullough said. "Iàbelieve it's a policy and program failure of the provincial government."à

The organization is currently entered into a purchase-of-service agreement with the province and is provided approximately $3.5 million annually to provide care.

SCO has told the province when the agreement runs out at the end of June, it will terminate service unless the funding is increased.

'The province has very high service-delivery expectations, as they should, and the funding levels do not match those expectations' -- executive director Ron McCullough

McCullough said of the $3.5 million they receive, about $2.9 million is dedicated to payroll while the remaining $600,000 goes toward daily living expenses such as food, transportation, property tax, utility bills, building maintenance and rent on one of the homes the organization doesn't own.

McCullough said SCO can afford to pay its 100 full-time, part-time and casual employees approximately $12 per hour. However, at that wage, keeping and retaining employees is virtually impossible.

Last year, instead of continuing the vicious circle of losing employees, SCO decided to offer wages it felt were more in line with market conditions in the area, bumping the wages to between $15 and $17 per hour.

"We view it as an investment in human resources, and the province sees it as an expense,"àMcCullough said.

The seven-person volunteer board, which oversees the organization, felt the wage increase was necessary to attract a higher calibre of candidate to the job.

"The consequence of not having the labour force is that we put people at risk,"àMcCullough said. "The consequence of raising wages (to secure a quality labour force), which we have done to be able to deliver services, comes with a financial bite."

McCullough said raising wages was paramount to keeping pace with its biggest competitor, the provincial government, which often hires entry-level employees with qualifications similar to what SCOàis looking for, for more money in the health and education fields.

Last year, the SCO ran a $500,000 deficit as a result of the increased wages. This year, it is on track to do the same.

SCO has met with the province on several occasions and each time the government has told them there will be no additional money, McCullough said.

The last general increase the organization received was in October 2011, when the government bumped the funding model by one per cent. McCullough said that increase doesn't even keep pace with inflation or minimum wage hikes.

He also wonders where the 30 adults with intellectual disabilities, who were integrated into communities after several mental-health institutions were disbanded in 2000, will go.

Other agencies he's spoken with aren't in a position to take on more people, while at least two more are in the same financial peril as SCO.

A Family Services spokesman said the provincial department continues to discuss the situation with SCO, "making every effort to ensure participants can stay in their home."

Funding to SCO has increased by 11 per cent since 2008, the spokesman said, acknowledging more work still needs to be done.

"Wages, along with recruitment and retention of staff, have been a problem in this sector across Canada for some time,"àhe said.

"The funding model for day and residential services is currently under review and one of the goals is to ensure long-term stability of these services and give front-line workers the resources they need."

 

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 A13

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