The nice thing about this blog is every once in a while I can sneak a post past the vast jordoncooper.com editorial team and say whatever I want. Hopefully it doesn’t upset too many advertisers.
Over the last couple of years I have become increasingly dismayed at the level of care and effort that the Saskatoon Health Region gives to low income men and women, especially if they are low functioning people with disabilities or mental health problems.
This month at work we have had three cases that would blow your mind if you found out what happened but the scenario was the same in all three cases. The people all needed medical attention and intervention by medical professional and in all three cases, for some bizarre the decision was made not to give them help they needed and let them carry on. One was serious enough that the paramedics were not able to handle what they saw, an other had a mental health warrant issued (for the second time), and the third was a highly contagious condition. All were refused the help that they needed and within minutes/hours the hospital put the problem back on The Lighthouse.
Here is the problem with The Lighthouse. We are funded the exact same amount of money as a flop house. We get the same amount of money for rent as the Barry Hotel did in it’s prime as a slum landlord. We get the same amount of money as another slum hotelier in the city. We get a small amount of money for food that doesn’t increase despite rising food costs. Our food services people do a great job and make a tremendous amount of food from scratch. I thought it was because they are amazing (they are) but they tell me it’s also cheaper (it is but they are still amazing). Many of our residents have complex medical needs, HEP-C, HIV, and quite a few have full blown AIDS which have special nutritional needs. Some are battling terminal cancer and most have concurrent disorders of mental health and addictions. To provide care for them, we are paid the same rate as a slum landlord does. If we did nothing more than collect rent we would get the same amount of money.
We don’t do that. Every bit of The Lighthouse is on camera. We are double staffed for the safety of our residents and staff. We offer case management, we offer trustee programs for those that need help with their money. Today, staff are bringing a bunch of residents to Table Mountain for a day of snowboarding and fun. How many slum landlords do that? Past outings have included Banff, Calgary Zoo, Cyprus Hills, and quite a few others. These are life changing events for many of our residents. If you want an uplifting time, come down and ask them about them. I have heard stories of people getting lost (not seriously), exploring an abandoned church, and yes, some stories about going on skis for the first time. The boss is talking about a trip east some day to Canada’s Wonderland for our residents some day. For many of them who have never been out of the city, this is a big deal, even if it does involved strapping a piece of wood to their feet and going downhill.
There are classes to help them with self-esteem, special meals, I make everyone a personalized birthday card on their birthday, and staff last year made a list, checked it twice, and went out and bought everyone in the supported living rooms and the emergency shelter their own Christmas gift. Yes, they hit the mall and shopped for 80 people. They came back with the gifts and post traumatic stress disorder. Not only that but each was hand wrapped and given to them on Christmas morning. You know what, not many other places anywhere in Canada do anything like this but The Lighthouse does. I am proud to be a part of it.
It can be hard. Our residents beat the crap out of our 107 year old building. It’s the nature of the business. It’s not so much violence but a bunch of them are developmentally challenged which means that despite having a 40 year old body, some are children inside which means they rough house and goof around. It means the occasional door gets wrecked, elbows go through drywall and plaster. Everyone once in a while someone has a temper tantrum and kicks a hole in the wall. All of this adds a lot of expense to what we do. It’s mad worse by the rather odd paint decisions the owners of the Capri Hotel made. Like hotels even today, the walls are covered with a fabric wallpaper which means that if a hole is made, the repair job is horrible. As we renovate and keep using a standard shade of off white paint, it should get easier and cheaper to maintain and keep up but our residents are “the hard to house” and this is one of the reasons why.
At the same time there are things that we can not do. We aren’t paid or staffed to be a care home. Our residents grow older, they grow weaker, and they need some place to give them a higher quality of care. You are supposed to be able to rely on agencies like CPAS to help you. With one person they just said he was too high maintenance and none of their homes would take him and left him at The Lighthouse. I had no idea up to that point that I need to be low maintenance and have a high income to get into a nursing home. I thought that is why we have a social safety net in place, for guys like this one who can’t take care of himself and has no family. Apparently not. Of course homecare was suggested but they don’t clean up rooms. Service Master was suggested but that would be $1500 a month and no one would pay that. We were expected to. In then end we would have to pay $1500 a month to room him for $609 a month. That is the system at work. I know it is because of a shortage of beds in the system but who pays for that? The hardest to house and those with the biggest need. It’s the exact opposite of how you would expect the system to work. The easier to house get the best treatment because they are low maintenance. No one wants the high maintenance residents so they get the worse treatment.
You know how you get help for people who have struggles that you can’t deal with? You need to have them sent to the hospital and then you tell them you won’t take them back. After that happens I get berated by a series of doctors, nurses and administrators and chastised for being a “drain on the system”. I have heard the phrase “piece of shit” tossed at my by a doctor as well. Stay classy guys. I was reminded by a co-worker a couple of years ago that the role of a hospital is not to help people but just to get them out of the hospital. It explains why I have seen people come to the Salvation Army asking for help to have their wounds to be changed because the hospital won’t and just sent away with bandages and not even any understanding of what to do with them. Recently another cognitively challenged person I know has a staph infection. She was discharged with the medication to treat it including a IV tube to inject the antibiotics without any knowledge how to do it.
Others we have gotten mental health warrants for their own protection. We can persuade a judge to issue one that has a track record of turning them down but 20 minutes after being at RUH, the client was released because he kept it together for 20 minutes. I was chastised over that. The guy they released is a threat to himself and others but for 20 minutes he was okay and played a victim and they let him go. A couple of years later we got another warrant because his untreated condition was getting worse and escalating. Same result. Same lecture from RUH and the person is still untreated for a treatable disorder that has destroyed his life.
Finally, Wendy started work as a casual staff at The Lighthouse yesterday. A resident had a contagious condition that needed immediate medical treatment. We called homecare but they weren’t scheduled to come by for a couple of days. We called CPAS and got nowhere. We called Mobile Crisis who told us to call her Social Services worker. We called Social Services but the phone message said that the worker would not be returning phone calls that day. Finally my co-worker was about to snap and I called The Salvation Army who authorized a cab to the hospital. Hospital didn’t treat her, sent a low functioning women who can’t read or take care of herself back with a prescription to treat the contagious condition. What do you do? Well Wendy and DeeAnn took on the job of basically providing medical services that no one else would. They did a good job but the problem overwhelmed even them, the prescription, and the problem is still more or less unsolved. On top of that they found out that one of the services we were talking to has been lying about the care they are giving.
The end result of this is that she is going to have to be evicted to a group home. It’s not that we want to kick her out but if no one else will do what they are supposed to be doing, we can’t keep her there as she can’t take care of herself. What really bothers me is that she is happy there, just no one wants to be a part of her solution because her problem don’t fit into the slot of solutions that are offered.
I could go on. During H1N1 outbreak the Health Region sent infected people to a shelter that has congregate sleeping arrangements and then demanded we provide a segregated area. Staff hadn’t even been given inoculations yet. (no one caught it but me). They have referred people that have had tuberculosis to sleep in a congregate area. The same congregate areas where others with compromised immune systems sleep. Luckily (in some cases) the guy disclosed it and we found other safer housing for him. It’s not just health. Many times Social Services has referred clients who have had contagious airborne diseases to shelters but don’t tell us. Apparently it is because of confidentiality reasons. Somehow confidentiality trumps the protection of 70 other people but in the end, it is because it is just easier to make it someone else’s problem. Then there is this. Many clients over the years who told me that Social Services told them to lie to the shelters about being on Social Services so they (the Saskatchewan government) could pay a lower subsidized rate. So there you go, your donations to agencies go to subsidize people because of social workers being dishonest.
So around all of this, the City is going to debate five bylaw enforcement officers who will walk around and harass panhandlers and give the impression to downtown shoppers that a very safe downtown core, is indeed really safe. Later plans include a downtown referral centre for those that need assistance which will be yet another agency that can’t do anything. Housing problems are not solved with referral centres but are solved with access to housing units and supports, two things that aren’t in play right now.
I know some city councillors and MLAs read the blog and I chat with a lot of them about these issues but I am constantly amazed at how far apart their solutions are from the real problems. Part of it comes from “they have to play the cards they have dealt”. The other reason is that they don’t seem to want to take on the real problems of just a messed up system that is full of people who are conditioned to pass off a problem than confront it. I think our politicians sometime suffer from the same condition.