Report calls for independent review

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Review necessary to rebuild "damaged" relationships

A report meant to improve safety standards for people with disabilities is shining a spotlight on the dismal relationship between a government program and the community it serves.

The Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) Safety Standards Consultation Team presented its final report to the Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir on Wednesday.

The team was originally tasked with reviewing controversial regulations imposed by the former PC government.

The regulations, which involved costly retrofits to personal homes and rental suites, were imposed following a fatality inquiry into the 2007 death of a woman with Down syndrome. Mary Lane was unable to escape her basement suite when a fire broke out in her Capilano group home.

Minister of Human Services Irfan Sabir repealed the regulations in spring 2016 and extended the team’s mandate to explore potential ways to improve safety among this demographic.

Although the majority of the team’s 11 recommendations focus on safety – calling for improved training, education and accreditation standards – the first calls for a sweeping review of the government program, as well as proper consultation.

“We heard repeatedly from people that they felt the relationship between the community and PDD has been really damaged … and that there needed to be a proactive review of how services were delivered,” said St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud, who served as part of the consultation team.

Craig Brown, executive director of Transitions, a St. Albert-based PDD service provider, commended the government for highlighting the strained relationship, calling it a “vital” part of the report.

“The reason that we came to this point with this report is that there was absolutely no consultation done before the safety standards came out,” he said. “PDD and the government of the day simply put them in place.”

Renaud agrees. Fallout from the safety standards – at least one PDD client in St. Albert lost their home – is an acute example of why consultation is necessary, she said.

“I don’t think the intent was ever malicious, but when decisions are made in isolation they’re not going to be the right solutions for people,” said Renaud.

The report concludes that individuals are safest when they are included in their communities and a holistic approach to safety standards going forward.

Rather than intrusive changes to private residences, the consultation team recommends better training and education for support staff, strengthened accreditation standards for agencies providing PDD-funded services and the possibility of health and safety education for individuals with disabilities.

“Our biggest belief is that people should be treated the same as anyone else,” said Carmen Horpestad, executive director of LoSeCa. “I hope the government takes in consideration all those recommendations for a more inclusive Alberta overall.”

Sabir said the government would take the next few months to study the recommendations.

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Michelle Ferguson