Ontario’s systemic failure to help desperate families who are unable to care for loved ones with developmental disabilities has left vulnerable people in dire and often dangerous circumstances, Ombudsman Paul Dubé reveals in his office’s latest report, released today.
In Nowhere to Turn, the Ombudsman reports on his office’s investigation of more than 1,400 complaints from families of adults with developmental disabilities who are in crisis situations, including being abandoned, abused, unnecessarily hospitalized and jailed.
These “extreme and egregious cases” highlight a dire need for greater supports, services and more rigorous monitoring – and amount to “a modern-day version of institutionalization,” Mr. Dubé says in the report.
Noting that Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek and her Ministry have already committed to accepting and implementing all 60 of his recommendations – including to report back to him on their progress – Mr. Dubé points out that recent efforts by the Ministry to address the gaps in the system are encouraging.
“There has been a marked improvement in response to crisis and a recognition that the Ministry plays a vital role in resolving complex cases,” he says. Prior to the investigation, provincial officials took a “well-intentioned and earnest” but hands-off approach, and families were left frustrated by inconsistencies amongst a maze of local service agencies across the province.
Despite the government’s announcement in 2014 of $810 million over three years for developmental services (bringing spending to $2 billion a year), “progress has been incremental,” the Ombudsman reports. “There is still marked inconsistency in how limited funds are prioritized and distributed” and families struggle with “interminable waitlist delays,” leaving some so desperate that they have abandoned their loved ones.
The report details 18 cases of adults with developmental disabilities and complex needs who were left homeless, abused, abandoned, or inappropriately housed in hospitals, long-term care facilities and jails. One 24-year-old man lived for months in a long-term care home, where he injured one senior and was molested by another; another man with autism spent 12 years in psychiatric units. One woman who couldn’t remain in an abusive home was moved 20 times in 34 days; another was abandoned by an exhausted, ill relative after two of her other caregivers died.
“There are many thousands more in urgent circumstances and anxious for relief,” Mr. Dubé says in the report, noting that new complaints are still coming in.
Among his recommendations are that the Ministry formally recognize its role in directly assisting with crisis cases, and direct its regional offices and service agencies that adults with developmental disabilities should not be returned to abusive situations or housed inappropriately in hospitals or long-term care facilities. Several recommendations call for improved tracking, monitoring and research to identify service gaps and allow for flexible and urgent solutions to crisis situations.
Launched in November 2012, the Special Ombudsman Response Team’s investigation involved interviews with more than 200 families and officials, and the review of more than 25,000 documents, including similar probes by coroner’s inquests and Ontario’s Auditor General. Ombudsman staff also worked to resolve individual crisis situations as they arose – including helping move 20 people from hospitals to more suitable homes.
Although some complainants raised other issues, such as a lack of services for high-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum, the report notes that the scope of the investigation was deliberately focused on “services and programs for those with complex needs in urgent situations.”
The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Ontario legislature who resolves and investigates public complaints about provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards – and recommends solutions to individual and systemic administrative problems. The Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, but are generally accepted; almost all recommendations stemming from the 36 SORT investigations conducted since 2005 have been implemented, resulting in such reforms as a more secure lottery system, fairer property tax assessments and upgraded screening of newborn babies. On June 29, the province accepted all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to improve police training for de-escalating conflict situations.