Residents of St. Albert might recognize Alyssa Garstad around town. She volunteers to wipe tables at the local bowling alley during the week.
Alyssa has Down syndrome. She spends her days at a community day program at the Lo-Se-Ca Foundation. A program, her mother Alanna says, she is blessed to be in.
“It’s been an amazing transformation. Her (support worker) was ecstatic last week when she spoke in a complete sentence for the first time in three years,” she said.
But Alanna now fears for her daughter’s wellbeing because of an announcement in the 2013 Alberta budget that roughly $42 million will be cut by July 1 from community access programs offered by agencies such as Lo-Se-Ca. The programs help disabled Albertans find employment, participate in volunteer opportunities, fitness, and leisure and life skills programs.
The funding cuts threaten Alyssa’s quality of life, her mother explains, the day program is her livelihood and without it Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) like her daughter will no longer be out in the community, “they’ll be sitting at a desk stuffing envelopes.”
More than 1,000 vulnerable Albertans, service providers and supporters rallied outside the Alberta Legislature on Friday afternoon in protest of the cuts. “Too big, too fast, too soon,” was boldly printed on signs, T-shirts and carried by chants filling the Legislature grounds.
Lo-Se-Ca, the foundation that organized the protest, expects to cut around $600,000 or 12 per cent, from its operating budget over the next nine months. Other St. Albert service providers such as Transitions and the Skills Society expect to see similar setbacks.
Marie Renaud, executive director of Lo-Se-Ca, said there is no way the changes can be done in the timeframe they’ve been given. She refuses to cut from the foundation’s budget.
“I’m not doing it. I know, we all know, how dangerous this is. Someone will be hurt and quality of life will be banished.”
Funding for programs and employee positions isn’t the only change slated to take effect by July 1, service delivery will be determined using a new scale based on an individual’s assessed needs.
Alanna Garstad describes her daughter as a six-year-old trapped in a 24-year-old’s body. She requires constant supervision, but according to the new supports intensity scale, Alyssa is categorized as low-risk and therefore employable.
“She was assessed by a written survey. Nobody has met her, nobody knows what she’s capable of.”
Service care providers throughout Alberta have expressed concerns over the model, stating the assessment tool does not involve caregivers and may not be indicative of what the person’s true needs are.
“I think this is disgusting. We’re the richest province in the country and we’re doing this to our most vulnerable citizens,” said Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith. “What’s even more outrageous is this is the only way that we can press the government to get action.”
“There are lots and lots of places where they can find $42 million in efficiencies, this is not the place to do it.”
Frank Oberle, associate minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities, is currently on a speaking tour of 19 Alberta communities to discuss PDD changes. He insists the system will provide supports to the people that need them.