Inadequate Disability Supports stretches way past simple dollar value

For anyone receiving Disability Support of any kind – it goes way beyond just the dollar value and the assortment of the different services. That’s why support services need to remain, and they need to suit the needs of the individual.

Whether it be a full-time caregiver, or just a supportive friend helping a disabled person in their community, what gets provided is often invaluable.

If they work well, supports can enable people to achieve goals important to them, or at the very least, put them into a position to do so.

So, that’s why service cuts in New Zealand, and around the world, can have such a bad impact on people.

The damage to the routine and structure of those peoples’ lives goes far beyond the care side of things as well; it actually limits and sometimes takes away access to existing support networks and work opportunities.

But it’s a worldwide problem that stretches far beyond New Zealand.

The ‘upper tops’ in world Governments simply don’t grasp just how important a continual and simple support structure is to people with disabilities.

If change is ‘giving with one hand and taking with another’, that can quickly become catastrophic and it ends with the people’s individual requirements being at the very bottom of the priorities list.

Medicaid Changes Could Affect Thousands In United States

Over in the United States; thousands are at serious risk of having their existing supports cut due to changes surrounding Medicaid.

In a story published in The New York Times recently; a young woman preparing to graduate from law school has found her ability to work in the future under serious threat. Her existing support, provided from a funding package approved by Medicaid, currently enables the woman to attend her final exams and have the ability to partake in work experience. Cutting her support therefore takes away the existing structure which has allowed such independence until this point.

This is just one of thousands of examples should the changes to Medicaid go ahead.

HealthCare NZ to pick up 850 families wanting Home Support

IHC New Zealand boss Ralph Jones has confirmed that HealthCare NZ and Spectrum Care are likely to take over provision of home support and facility based respite for its clients.

IDEA Services has been in the news for dropping the two services, and even more recently for cutting its Autism support, but the impending signature with two of New Zealand’s most prominent support providers is encouraging.

850 families receive home support under IDEA Services, and the provider says it’s confident that HealthCare NZ can take on each of those.

“When we signalled an intention to move out of these services, a great deal of work was done to ensure continuity”, Ralph Jones said. “We know that families want certainty and we are pleased to be able to share the next step as part of our commitment to ensure uninterrupted services”, Jones added

Three of the respite bases will be managed by HealthCare NZ, and Spectrum Care are wanting to manage two in the Wellington region.

Minister for Disability Issues lashes out in Parliament

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Minister Wagner lashed out in Parliament this afternoon. Photo: TheWorkingBlog

In a remarkable afternoon in Parliament; the Minister for Disability Issues took aim at IDEA Services and labelled the provider irresponsible.

Opposition Labour MP Poto Williams has accused Nicky Wagner of reacting in an appalling manner when asked about cuts to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) support announced by IDEA Services on Tuesday.

In a rant of sorts, Wagner accused IDEA Services of doing a U-turn on discussions about re-signing the contract which would have seen the ASD support continue. Wagner also claims that IDEA refused to enter into transitional services before a new provider was found.

“After previously indicating they would renew contracts, they gave no notice their clients. They also refused to agree to a temporary three month contract”, Wagner said. “I say that IDEA Services is being totally irresponsible. We all know change is difficult, especially for this cohort of clients where routine and security is so important”, Wagner added.

In the aftermath of Wagner’s comments, the Ministry of Health issued a statement. Toni Atkinson, the senior media advisor for the Ministry, reaffirmed the Government’s stance that increased levels of funding has been injected into IDEA Services.

“IDEA have been funded $2.3million per annum to deliver these ASD services. They, like other providers, need to configure their service within the available funding”, Atkinson said.

Despite a long relationship between IDEA Services and the Ministry; it appears that the relationship could now be over.

“We acknowledge IDEA’s long standing commitment to the provision of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) services through New Zealand. We are disappointed that the relationship with families and the Ministry is to end in this way”, Atkinson said.

Reaction on social media has been of shock and disappointment, particularly at Wagner for her comments. One woman said the Minister was in “la la land” if she couldn’t work out how underfunded the disability sector is.

The Ministry say that other providers have already showed willingness to pick up the ASD contracts. No firm date has been given for new services and an announcement won’t be made until a new provider is confirmed.

Atkinson says that the wait will continue for the high amount of people on waiting lists.

“People on wait lists will stay on the waiting list until new services are in place. The Ministry will ask IDEA to provide a copy of the current waiting list so that these people can be prioritised once alternative services are in place.”

The Ministry estimates that currently 446 active clients are involved in services and 728 families across New Zealand are on waiting lists.

Ministry of Health make further comment on ASD Support reductions

A senior media advisor at the Ministry of Health has provided further information on the recent cuts to services supporting people in the ASD community.

According to the Ministry; an email sent by IDEA Services last week was confirmation that the provider would not be renewing the ASD contracts.

No one has said that IDEA Services won’t continue to provide any support for the ASD community, in this blog or otherwise. IHC New Zealand boss Ralph Jones said that the organisation will continue to advocate on behalf of all people with intellectual disabilities.

But the fact remains, IDEA Services won’t be running these popular services and the hundreds of families on waiting lists will have to stay in limbo.

For a long time now, people have struggled to take what the Government says regarding funding for disability support at face value. This latest example in terms of the apparent reduction in funding for ASD support services is the latest example.

After the email exchange between IDEA Services and the Ministry, a letter was sent out to people receiving support for ASD services. In that letter, IDEA Services gave this official statement:

“Unfortunately with the underfunding of over $500,000 in the 2016/2017 year and no offer of an increase for the coming year we cannot continue to provide the service”, IDEA Specialist Services General Manager said.

The Minister for Disability issues has said that funding isn’t being reduced, for IDEA Services or any other organisation. This is in direct contrast  to what was claimed in the letter.

Costs for all organisations are on the rise and some have speculated that the $500,000 underfund for IDEA Services isn’t specific to ASD contracts. What IDEA Services are saying is that there has been insufficient funding to continue ASD support services moving forward.

Some members of the ASD community say that IDEA Services didn’t renew the contract with the Ministry of Health due to being underfunded as costs for services and programmes continue to rise. They also say that this was not a new problem either.

The mainstream media are currently working on this story.

Minister denies claims of reduction in funding for IDEA Services

The Ministry of Health and the Minister for Disability Issues have both denied a reduction in funding for IDEA Services led to cuts of support programmes for people with Autism.

Tony Atkinson, Disability Support Services Group Manager, rejected claims of funding reductions leading to IDEA Services pulling out of providing three programmes that support and educate people in the ASD community.

“There has been no reduction or cut in funding to IDEA Services”, Atkinson said.

The Ministry and IDEA Services want to limit disruption and the gaps between the end of one service and the beginning of other ones. Atkinson says that alternative arrangements for affected services are being worked through.

Just what those other services will be, and how accommodating they are to the thousands of people in the ASD community remains to be seen.

Aside from the thousands due to be affected by the cuts announced via a letter distributed from IDEA Services on Tuesday, many more are still on waiting lists as well. In the letter, IDEA pointed to an underfunding of $500,000 in the 2015/16 financial year as a big factor in their decision to cease continuation of three ASD programmes.

After negotiations with the Ministry of Health, a new contract was not signed. Atkinson says that the Ministry will be seeking alternate providers to continue services for ASD clients and also the others affected by home care and facility based respite cuts.

The Minister for Disability Issues palmed off suggestions of reductions and cuts also. When contacted by this blog, Nicky Wagner says she had no knowledge of the letter sent out by IDEA Services and questioned some of the quotes published on this blog.

“I haven’t seen this letter but nothing you quote is correct”, Wagner said.

Yesterday, the Minister announced the members selected onto a co-design group that will be tasked with transforming disability supports. Some concerns have been raised by members of the ASD community about their representation on the group.

Gabrielle Hogg is advocate for people on the Autism spectrum and says that a lack of representation goes against a call from the United Nations to have people with Autism in decision making roles on Government advisory committees.

Hogg says that she is very concerned that people on the spectrum are being ignored.

“Autistic individuals feel very much locked out from having direct feedback with being on the group”, Hogg said.

More to come.

Thousands on the Autism Spectrum have support cut

Members of the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) community have been left reeling after news that IDEA Services will no longer provide support to families due to funding cuts by the Ministry of Health.

Three popular and successful support programmes will get the chop, leaving many on the spectrum without their day bases and no education for families. It also means that the several thousand on waiting lists now have to miss out, at least until something else is sorted.

The news comes as a massive blow to the ASD community, and IHC New Zealand’s boss Ralph Jones says that the timing of the announcement comes as an “extra blow” that is “devastating” for the organisation and the people it supports. Just a few weeks ago, Jones also announced that several support services would be cut, including home support and facility based respite.

Other providers are now set to not only bare the increase in demand from the over 12,000 people affected by those cuts, but now also the large numbers involved with ASD programmes.

ASD programmes run by IDEA Services to be cut are:

Growing Up With Austism

ASD Plus

Communication & Behaviour

In total, IDEA Services was underfunded by a total $500,000 in the past financial year as the Ministry of Health continues its cut backs. This news comes despite the fact that Minister for Disability issues said that funding has increased by 4% each year throughout the sector.

IDEA Services has been providing large amounts of support to the ASD community since 2013 under a contact with the Ministry of Health.

The Government simply must inject more funding into disability support. If not, big cuts like this are only going to continue. Labour MP Grant Robertson took to social media to air his concerns, but very few others in Parliament have touched on the issue.

“We should restore the funding for this as part of a comprehensive and diverse set of support programmes for those with autism. It is what a caring and inclusive country would do”, Robertson said.

People suffering from autism and their families have taken to Facebook to air their concerns. One woman said that IDEA Services had done a lot of good work to develop autism awareness training but the Ministry of Health hadn’t provided enough investment for it to take place. Another woman, who works for a National Group Organisation (NGO), said that families are being left with less and less support while workloads for organisations only continue to lose workers who are fed up with being unpaid for extra hours.

This blog has contacted this Minister for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Health for comment.

The investment behind impending Disability Support overhaul

With just $1.8million set aside for the major overhaul to disability support, the Government could well be making similar mistakes that it has in the past,

Some people say that the intent behind the Government’s proposal for change is not to the real benefit of disabled people in New Zealand.

Frankly, it’s hard to argue with that. The way the Government choose to take the transformation of disability support will be interesting, but  there is going to be losers, and a lot of them in New Zealand’s disabled community.

Calls for total system change have been rife since a report back in 2008. Then, concerns were that the support system restricted people’s choice and control over the supports and structure of their lives.

The proof of similar mistakes occurring again can be seen in a cabinet paper that proposed system transformation to disability support.

The entire project has a total financial investment of $1.8million. But claims that that sum is an investment by Government are also up for scrutiny. According to the cabinet paper, the $1.8million used to fund the system transformation project has been taken from a $3million contingency already established by the Government. That bucket of $3million was set aside for supporting further work and development of Enabling Good Lives.

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A breakdown of the investment Government will put into DSS overhauls. Photo: Michael Pulman

This move can be seen in a couple of different ways, however. EGL (Enabling Good Lives) is a demonstration project that has been running in Christchurch and throughout the Waikato. If the system transformation works, using principles of EGL, the need for these two demonstrations no longer remains. If it doesn’t, chances are that the demonstrations will be forced to either stop, or continue minus the $1.8million batch of funding, therefore running at a loss of sorts.

Government have made it clear that any system transformation for disability support has to be cost-effective. In other words, make it work with $1.8million and offer little alternative. In the words of Sacha O’Dea from the Ministry of Health, the immediate future is that “everything stays exactly the same”.

The Minister for Disability Issues, Nicky Wagner, says that culture change within the disability support system will be significant. Within the last week, Idea Services (the operating arm of IHC) cut services that will affect 1200 users of disability support. When pressed on the matter, Wagner said that funding has increased across the disability sector.

“Idea Services will take a strength based approach and will focus on community residential and day services”, Wagner said. “In actual fact, funding for Idea Services has increased and this is absolutely in line with the increases that we have had right across the disability sector”, Wagner added.

The cabinet paper shows that an increase in funding has occurred, at a level of 4% over the course of the last ten years. That increase is spent across the Ministries of Health, Social Development, and Education; meaning a small impact at best.

So the question remains, can an overhaul that truly incorporates greater choice and control be a successful one for disabled people in New Zealand? It’s hard to imagine.