Poor Coordination by Support Providers affects real lives

Poor communication among service providers has always been one of the worst aspects of the business. Allow me to share a personal tale.

I need to preface this blog with an acknowledgement that this is about an issue that I am personally involved in. I also want to say that I realise mistakes happen, and those are often due to miscommunication. No coordinator is perfect, but I really feel like I need to come to the defense of support workers in this instance.

On two separate occasions this week; I was left without a support worker. The first time, a support worker who was already rostered to be working with me had been double booked. The curious thing about this is that another coordinator, not my own, had booked the worker to be with another client when they were already rostored to be with me. That other coordinator didn’t bother checking with either the support worker or their fellow coordinators about if there would be any overlap. A breakdown in communication. The coordinators then blamed the support worker for the mix up – but what were they supposed to do? One person telling them one thing and another something totally different.

The result? I had no support for the entire day. It was just lucky that my partner was staying over the night before – so she kindly offered to help me with my cares.

The second occasion was even worse. A support worker had put in, and been approved, annual leave for the day. Not only was no other arrangement made, but the coordinator claimed to not be aware of the support worker being on leave. By this time, it was late in the afternoon and typically, all other options failed. A breakdown in communication.

The result? I had no support for almost two hours until something was arranged – and that something was another support worker coming in out of the goodness of their heart when they were supposed to be at home with their family.

Naturally I was furious, and I immediately complained. But it got me thinking – and I realised that this sort of thing is happening to so many disabled people who need this vital support. Calling in an agency staff (a contractor from another service) seems to be the “go to” solution when these miscommunications happen. Ok well that’s fine, but did you realise that an agency staff actually costs a considerable amount more? You’re also charged for the coordination time for all this too – even when the situation that led to you having no support is because of the coordinators screw up.

Always remember – the disability sector and especially these support organisations are a business. It’s about money just as much, if not more, than the people who need help. If you disagree then you’re not only kidding yourself, but you’re an idiot too.

Today we received an apology for what happened – and while I accept it – we need to acknowledge the fact that something really does need to change. Forget about my personal situation and look at the bigger picture for a moment. How many people do you think rely on support and how many do you think suffer the same inconsistent assurance? Make your number and then double it.

Let’s also not forget about the potential safety issue that poor coordination can have. Do these people realise how vulnerable some of their clients are? The paperwork suggests so but all that can often get bogged down amongst all the other admin duties a coordinator is lumped with – the forms and policies etc.

So how do we fix this? Better communication would be good for a start. You’ve got a contract too – the people have these disabilities for life. Does it mess up yours as much as it does theirs? With pay equity being given the green light by the Government this week; providers are about to come under even more financial pressure. At the very least, do your job right at its most basic and fundamental level.

Pay Equity Deal could leave some clients in limbo

Support workers will rejoice today as the long-fought pay equity deal gets the sign off.

55,000 workers will get a pay rise of up to 43%, across Government sectors including Aged Residential Care, Home Support, and Disability Services. It is a huge win for a part of New Zealand’s employment that has gone long underpaid for far too long.

But who picks up the tab? And, what does this all look like after the election later this year?

As it pertains to disability support services; it is a sector made up primarily of women. There are men, too, who work as carers and provide home help but they are mostly overshadowed by their female counterparts. Those counterparts, rightly so, are very loud and have historically tried to “fight the system”.

Underpinning this long battle is the reality that women are not paid on an equal level to men.

Poor coordination, underfunded providers, and a lack of quality care workers in the sector are not addressed in today’s announcement. An extra $500 million per year – that is the cost of this victory. A fair and well deserved victory, but a very expensive one nonetheless. Productivity and output are not measured in the decision either.

Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking was very right when he said that once one group of people get a rise in pay, everyone then sticks their hand up wanting the same. He was also right when he eluded to the fact that workers won’t be being required to put in any extra hours or have additional tasks added to their regular duties.

Ah – but that statement forgets that there are already many support workers that go above and beyond the people they support. They work extra hours, often for little to no compensation.

While this news comes as a big win for the care sector, it will come at a major cost, but not only to who you’d think. Disabled people and their families will feel the impact of this too, and their current allocation of funding won’t manage the tsunami of pay increase demands that will come as a result. The funding must increase, not just the pay rate of support workers.

There is a tremendous risk here – and it could ultimately backfire on those most needing the support who have such little flexibility with funding as it is.

Ensuring that Support Workers are fully informed

A lot more could be done to keep support workers around New Zealand fully up to date with all the changes and notes of importance in a rapidly changing disability sector.

The way people want their supports delivered is changing, and with that, the requirements of the modern support worker who is responsible for delivering those supports is changing as well.

Supports are more flexible, some routines aren’t as structured, but a lot of support workers training actually reflects that of the old model. It’s not as simple as telling a support worker that the person they support wants more flexibility and control. You need to explain how the funding model works, but most importantly, support workers need to know that they are doing the job properly.

A lot of people receiving support won’t speak up if they aren’t happy. But the more information and regular communication support workers have, the better they will be when working out in the field.

Two years ago, CCS Disability Action’s Waikato region were looking at starting a newsletter for support workers. I myself was involved in the discussions surrounding this project, but despite my enthusiasm, for whatever reason it just never came to fruition.

To their credit, CCS Disability Action does release a few regional newsletters per year that give a lot of information about the latest happenings in the sector. But with that said, there isn’t a publication that is aimed just at the support workers.

Sometimes support workers feel “cut off” from their own place of work; they just go on with their business as the days pass but don’t really have a connection to what is happening. In some cases, they don’t have a lot of contact with their coordinators either.

Support workers need some sort of reoccurring communication, it is important for any employee as it gives them a sense of their performances in what is a very interpersonal job. It is also a good opportunity to offer support, resource, and information, which is to the benefit of not only the support worker but the person they are supporting.

The PSA Journal is a good publication that many will be referred onto, but a lot of support workers don’t sign up to the Union and therefore don’t receive it.

It is the responsibility of the organisation to provide effective and regular communication to their support workers who are out in the field. Some organisations are good at that, and some are seriously lacking.

Friend v Support Worker: An inhuman law

With the Residential Service Strategy under review, some of the ideologies about a Support Workers role in the life of people with disabilities need to be looked at.

You’d be surprised at the number of the elderly, and people with disabilities, who have next to no family or friends present in their lives. A lot of them live in care homes, retirement villages, and in group homes.

In comes a Support Worker, wearing that particular hat, and they are paid to assist someone, or a group of people, with their personal and community needs for a set number of hours per day. These workers, in a lot of cases, are paid the minimum wage.

As I’ve stated in previous blogs, the majority of people that I’ve spoken to who have Support Workers coming in and out of their homes see them as far more than just supportive aids. Also, a lot of experienced Support Workers have said to me that, over time, it is hard not to develop friendships with the people they support.

How, when you are spending so much time with a person each week, can you not begin to develop some kind of bond with them? There is, I believe, a double-standard and power game at play, and one that leaves the “client”, or person receiving support, always on the losing side.

The boundaries conversation is a flawed one, but, you also have to be professional, so where does the actual “line in the sand” exist?

Well for some, it just doesn’t.

Others will take the professional boundary “rule” so far that it becomes a situation where the person receiving the support, the person who’s funding pays for that workers job, can often feel like they mean nothing more than a paycheque to someone that is walking in and out of their homes.

A home is a persons place on sanctuary, comfort, and for many, a very private and intimate place.

Attitudes behind Residential Services and those who hire Support Workers as part of an agency or care provider are often struck with a very tight budget. Some people argue that if the pay was better, there would be more intention on the Support Worker’s part to really care about their job.

I am not saying that every Support Worker doesn’t “really care” about their job, and I am certainly not saying that they don’t care enough about the people they support.

I am saying that there is an attitude that exists which says that people with disabilities are extremely vulnerable, and can be taken advantage of easily. Because of this, very tight restrictions are put in place at a management level.

People receiving the support are the agency, or care providers, bread and butter. They bring in a lot of funding, and the contracts to receive such funding are very heavily contested. But where do the people fit into this?

The entire conversation about boundaries, and rules of not associating with clients outside of the workplace are in place because of moments that have led to abuse.

Because of the select few, both Support Worker and the person receiving support, who have taken advantage in select situations, the whole system has now become one that focuses on prevention rather than prosperity.

You can understand why, but it’s a tough price to pay for people requiring support that simply don’t have friends or family in their lives.

For all the damage that the boundaries conversation does to the spirit and mindset of people requiring support, perhaps what is doing the most damage and causing the most vulnerability is the fact that a lot of Residential Services and Support Workers within them go un-monitored for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.

That’s right, abuse can and still does occur.

Be at physical, emotional, or a combination of both, too many poor attitudes and a lack of proper training has contributed to it. But the lack of financial ability for proper training, coupled with Service Managers taking on too many different services at a time, is without doubt the biggest factor at play.

Abusive Support Worker avoids punishment

Despite several complaints of abuse being laid against her, a Waikato-based Support Worker has been reinstated to work with a group of disabled people.

The abuse has been taking place inside a Residential Service based in Cambridge, where up to four intellectually and physically disabled clients live.

A source informed The Real Michael Pulman several months ago that emotional abuse had been taking place towards all of the clients in this service, one of which in particular who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and was constantly targeted by the Support Worker.

The abuse includes verbal and emotional. Continue reading Abusive Support Worker avoids punishment

More than 200 Support Workers protest in Hamilton

More than 200 Support Workers based in the Waikato are unhappy with their pay rate, and they took to the streets to protest this afternoon.

Community Living Trust, one of New Zealand’s best-known disability and community support providers, recently have their Support Workers a 9-cent pay rise offer, which their employees say is simply not enough, and quickly rejected.

The organisation recorded an operating surplus of 70% for the year ended June 2015.

CLC Support Workers say that the offer is “insulting”, and for 2 hours today, took to the streets in protest, taking time off from supporting their clients to do so as well.

The Support Workers are currently on the minimum wage but work full time supporting people with intellectual disabilities. Support Workers say they have had many meetings with CLC in the past, with no positive results.

A mediation process took place this afternoon between CLC Support Workers and their employers in the hopes of a better offer being made.