I guess you were right, clay07... People don't mind reading my meanderings. I haven't managed to blog a new story every day as I'd hoped (working shift work really puts a kink in things sometimes) but I do have 13 posts there and my sister has learned a few things she didn't know before. I can't include a link here because I'm sworn to uphold the TOS, links in our profiles aren't taboo...
People on this thread seem to be getting what they're looking for from my nattering. So I'll try to come up with some on-topic reminiscences and I think I just came up with one...
I've made no secret of the fact that my son is severely handicapped as the result of medical misadventure. For the last 20+ years, since long before I became a nurse, I've been case-managing and advocating for him and have learned an awful lot about how to get what he needs in a single-payer health care system. Health care reform is one of those never-ending, never-really-rational things that governments in Canada spend a great deal of time and money on without ever truly making it better. And politicians have a lot of difficulty understanding that health care isn't something that can be pigeonholed or separated into neat little pieces. Rather it's a patchwork of factors that require a broad-based and multi-disciplinary approach. Some provinces are really good at supporting people with special needs and others are really not; political ideology and expediency are often the drivers of reform rather than a desire for working toward the greater good.
In the late 80's and early 90's, when provincial budgets were being tightened, there was much rearranging of services. The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, while theoretically a good idea, wasn't followed up with improved community services for these people who hadn't had to be responsible for themselves in years... decades. the idea was that the province would save a lot of money by not having to staff psychiatric hospitals and group homes; the displaced would receive social assistance (welfare, coming from a different pocket of the same overcoat) and their meds would be covered, so that was good, right? People like my son would be integrated into the community and responsibility for their care and well-being would devolve to the families. It's much cheaper to care for people like him in their homes, because the bulk of the job is done by someone who is not paid for their work.
Manitoba was under the control of a Conservative government for many years when these reforms started. Canadian Conservative ideology focuses on big business and keeps its distance from social issues as much as possible. There had never been any question that my son would be cared for at home, although our understanding of what that entailed was rather poor. Because the injuries that led to his disabilities had happened in Ontario, he slipped through many of the cracks that exist for unsuspecting families who are learning to navigate the system. Manitoba had lots of great services for kids like him that are administered through the Children's Rehabilitation Centre and Children's Special Services. For example, adaptive equipment, assistance with retrofitting the home, communication devices, home nutrition supplies, diapers and soakers, respite, all were available at little or no cost through these programmes and the goal was the support of families caring for special needs members in the home. But there was no process for needs assessment or any introduction to the system. The port of entry into the system was a referral to the Children's Rehabilitation Centre; we weren't referred by Children's Hospital because of how and where he was injured so we missed several years of supports. When we finally got our referral and began receiving services we were pleased. The best part of it was the respite service that allowed us 4 hours a week of trained help; Saturdays a young lady came and took him out for the afternoon so that we had some free time. It's things like these that make caring for family members at home workable. But politicians don't see the connection to health care that exists in filling social needs.
Shortly after the provincial election in 1995, all of the families receiving supports from Children's Special Services were notified by the Minister of Family Services that they were now to become part of a government belt-tightening exercise: respite hours were being cut drastically across the board. With 7 months remaining in the fiscal year, our hours had been reduced to virtually nothing. In fact, we had exactly 12 hours of respite remaining in our "bank"... I had just been hired into my first hospital nursing position after a year of trying and we were going to need that respite more than ever.
Somewhere along the line I had evolved from a passive observer of events to someone who couldn't stand by and watch any more; I immediately wrote a letter to the Minister and cc'd it to the Winnipeg Free Press. I explained that cutting people's respite hours would shift the problem from social services to health care: the number of admissions to hospital for special needs children would increase as families burned out. The government had shifted the burden of care for these kids onto families but failed to provide the necessary supports to make it work. Would they rather pay someone $10 an hour to give parents a break, or $1000 a day for acute care hospitalization for the same purpose? And let's not forget that although the money came from different budgets, ultimately it all came out of the same pot. I mailed the letter (no email in those days!) on a Wednesday. That Friday I received a call from the editor of the Free Press; they wanted to run my letter as their weekly "Portage and Main" editorial and needed a photo to run with it. An hour later a photographer was at my house taking my picture.
On the Monday I got a call from our case worker. Her opening statement almost made me laugh... "This is going to sound really fishy... but really, it has nothing to do with the Portage and Main column... the Minister has reconsidered and everyone will have their respite reinstated to the original number of hours. No, seriously, this was already decided before the paper came out on Saturday..." Okay. If you say so.
The message I'd like you to take from this is that you can learn a lot about the places you might want to call home by reading the local newspapers on-line and following discussions of current events. Learn about the political climate and the ideology driving their choices. Then at least you'll have your eyes open.