Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column
Tuesday January 12, 2010
Why Kill a 'Life Saving' Program?
Tuesday January 12, 2010
Closing Chimo Achievement Centre for people with serious disabilities will cost lives and dollars
"This program saved my life. If it's shutdown, I'm going to go downhill fast."
- Lawrence Bibby, Chimo Achievement Centre client
What do you do with a healthcare program that helps people with serious disabilities like multiple sclerosis stay out of hospital or long-term care and instead lead independent lives -- while saving taxpayers millions of dollars?
Any thoughtful analysis would conclude that this kind of innovative program should be a model for the province and be expanded.
But if you are the Fraser Health Authority, you simply shut down the program without even evaluating it, without talking to the administrator or staff or clients, all to save a whopping $165,000 a year.
That amount is less than half the $466,000 salary paid to Fraser Health's CEO -- Dr. Nigel Murray -- and a pittance in the Authority's $2.48 billion budget. But it actually pays for several staff to help keep 45 clients healthy and functioning.
Go home and good luck
Nevertheless, on January 31, the Chimo Achievement Centre in Coquitlam will lock its doors and its clients will be told to stay home and watch television, with a bit more home care added to keep them there.
Or they can visit a seniors centre for any activities despite the fact that most of them are far too young to be seniors and those centres don't have exercise programs for people in wheelchairs like Lawrence Bibby, who has MS.
I've known Lawrence for 35 years and when told me what was going on, I couldn't believe it.
But it is tragically true.
Lawrence actually moved from Vancouver to be in the area and take advantage of the Chimo program -- which he says literally saved his life.
Elizabeth Oliveira is another Chimo client who knows it saves money.
"Before Chimo I used to be really sick in hospital three or four times a year -- I haven't been in hospital for two years," said Oliveira, a 34-year-old who has muscular dystrophy, uses a trachea ventilator and gets help with breathing exercises.
But that's not all. Chimo gives both her and her mother much more.
"It makes me feel good about myself despite my limitations," she says. "My mother needs one day a week not to worry about me."
[You can hear from other Chimo clients speaking about the cutbacks by viewing this video.]
'They will deteriorate'
Chimo's administrator Arlene Hartley-Lewchuk is overwhelmingly worried about what will happen to her clients, despite her own disappearing job.
"We're not seeing any suitable placements for our clients -- there is nowhere for them to go but home," she said in an interview. "Physically their muscle tone is going to deteriorate. They won't have the ability or confidence to go out in their communities."
"But the big thing is they will lose their ability to live at home," Hartley-Lewchuk said. "There will be increased falls, which means hospital stays."
Amazingly, Hartley-Lewchuk says Fraser Health Authority never visited the Chimo program to evaluate it before cutting all its funding, nor has she yet had a meeting with its officials -- requested back in October -- to explain their decision.
Late Monday, Fraser Health Authority spokesperson Roy Thorpe said the evaluation of Chimo did not involve client interviews or discussions with the administrator or staff because of "confidentiality concerns around budget decisions" and because Authority directors "familiar with the program" were involved in determining the cuts.
Thorpe added that both an Authority director for home health and vice-president clinical operations Barbara Korabek called Chimo's Hartley-Lewchuk, but after the decision was made.
The B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities is shocked at the closure, and the lack of evaluation.
"This is the sort of cost-effective model that should be expanded, not removed," says executive director Jane Dyson. "This is a very backward move by Fraser Health."
And the Multiple Sclerosis Society agrees.
"The closure of Chimo would be a detriment to the disadvantaged and vulnerable population," says Adrianne Boothroyd, the MS Society's Lower Mainland chapter manager. "We strongly suggest a reconsideration for funding for this important and essential organization."
Chimo clients organizing
But Chimo clients are not giving up, despite the impending deadline. Lawrence Bibby has created both an online petition and a Facebook protest page to urge Fraser Health and B.C. to reverse the closure.
Fraser Health Authority's spokesperson Roy Thorpe told me Friday that all Chimo clients have either been referred to an "alternate day program" or will get some additional home support.
But Thorpe admitted those programs are for seniors, not younger people in wheelchairs, and didn't have an answer about Fraser Health's lack of evaluation before killing Chimo as part of its$160 million cost cutting exercise.
Thorpe says the decision to cut all funding "was never meant to suggest there wasn't great value to the program."
But he did have a response when asked if Fraser Health would reconsider the decision to close Chimo: "No."
I urge you to not take no for an answer -- help those people with disabilities who want to live independently at home by signing the petition, joining the Facebook group and letting your MLA know this foolish decision will only cost our healthcare system even more money while punishing those who don't deserve it.