Jeff Green | Oct 18, 2007
Feature Article - October 18, 2007 Feature Article - October 18, 2007
Community Supports Deliver Vital Servicesby Jeff Green
Only a government could come up with a title like Community Support Services, which doesn’t capture any of the flavour of the impact that diners programs, meals on wheels, respite services, and visiting programs have on the lives of people in rural communities.
Community supports are a basket of services that help seniors keep on living where they belong - at home with their families and neighbours. In Frontenac County and Addington Highlands there are three community-run agencies that deliver these services: Rural VISIONS which covers most of South Frontenac; Northern Frontenac Community Services, which covers part of South, all of Central, and most of North Frontenac; and Land o’ Lakes Community Services, which covers Addington Highlands and part of North Frontenac.
The programs offered by these organizations vary, but they are all available to help as people get into difficulties through illness or aging.
One such person is Carol Southall of Miller Lake near Parham. Carol and her husband George built a log home in the late 1980s, and they lived part-time in Kingston and part-time in the country until a few years ago, when it became too much work to maintain two households, and they became full time residents of Central Frontenac.
Carol had developed Parkinson’s disease in the late 1990s, and she says she “has been fortunate that it has been more or less controlled by drugs”.
The Southalls ran into difficulties when George began to have seizures and display symptoms of dementia. “I believe it all started when he sustained a head injury after a car accident in 2002,” Carol said, when interviewed from her home.
The stress of caring for George began to take its toll on Carol, and she began to realise that she was having trouble coping. “I’m not sure how the initial contact came about with Northern Frontenac Community Services, but it was either Candace Bertrim or Catherine Tysick who came out and talked to me about what services they could offer”.
Like many independent minded seniors, Carol Southall did not want to think she needed much in the way of support. But as George’s condition worsened and her health was compromised, she took advantage of meals on wheels, respite services, and some support with housework, and occasionally, transportation as well.
“I only got the service that I needed. Occasionally they pushed me, in a gentle way, to get more service, and it was always very appropriate,” Carol said.
By the middle of this year, it became clear that George could not stay at home any more, and he was placed in the Trillium Home in Kingston. He is moving to Fairmount Home this week.
“I was upset when George went into long term care. I was devastated.” The support that Carol received at that time took on a different focus.
“It became a bit personal,” she recalls.
As Carol adjusts to George being in long-term care, the support she is receiving has changed as well. She has a “Lifeline”, which gives her a button to press if she is in distress, and triggers a phone call to a neighbour to check her condition. Carol also gets help with housework at a subsidised rate.
Funding to support the services offered under the umbrella of community support services comes from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. For the past couple of years the ministry has been developing a new way to administer its funding, through Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).
The LHIN in this region has made it clear they are interested in supporting agencies that provide a wide range of services and that work co-operatively with other agencies.
“This is the way we have always worked in the rural area,” said Beth Freeland of the Rural VISIONS Centre in Sydenham.
Rural VISIONS provides 12 different services that are funded by the LHINs, aimed at seniors and disabled adults. Volunteers are critical to the delivery of many of the services that Rural VISIONS offers, and the recipients pay fees for some of them as well, such as meals on wheels, transportation, home help, and foot care services.
Rural VISIONS does a lot of fundraising to keep its services up and running, because funding always seems to lag behind the need for service.
In developing plans for the future, Rural VISIONS has done a study of the people who use their community support services. The average age is 74; 71% of the people are women, and they suffer from a number of health problems: 33% have hypertension, 20% are diabetic, 20% are arthritic, 14% have heart conditions, 6% have cancer, 6% have had strokes, and 6% have breathing difficulties.
This breakdown demonstrates how community supports relate to the healthcare system as a whole. In recognition of the cost savings realised by keeping people in their homes and out of hospital or long term care, the Ontario government committed $700 million in new funding to community support services.
But neither Beth Freeland from Rural VISIONS nor Susan Andrew-Allen from Land O’ Lakes Community Services are out spending any new money just yet. They’ve heard about funding increases before but must continue to scrimp and save in order to keep serving their communities. They both expect that some of the new funding will be tied up in the restructuring that came along with the LHINs.
Land O’ Lakes Community Services, based in Northbrook, provides nine community support programs. In most cases agency staff co-ordinate the work of volunteers, who deliver the programs.
“We have volunteers cooking for our diners program, volunteers delivering meals on wheels, and we have a volunteer hospice program,” Susan Andrew-Allen said. “We do a lot with the little funding that we receive.”
When asked what her first priority would be if extra funding were made available, Andrew-Allen did not hesitate: “Transportation, that’s where the need is greatest. A lot of people have hospital appointments in Kingston or Belleville, and they can’t afford to get there,” she said.
Beth Freeland took a bit of time when asked how she would spend extra money, if some were forthcoming.
“We need more space for programming,” she said, “and money for transportation.” She also mentioned the social recreation programs that Rural VISIONS is offering, such as Tai Chi and Sittercise programs. “These are specialized recreation programs to help address hypertension and diabetes, and we would like to solidify and expand them.”