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Canada Intellectually handicapped ‘neglected’ in Quebec, auditor finds

Quebec's Auditor General Michel Samson unveils a report Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Intellectually handicapped people in Quebec are among the most vulnerable and neglected groups in society and the government must do more to improve their care, according to provincial auditor Michel Samson.

They often go undiagnosed for years, receiving inadequate services, according to the auditor's report released on Wednesday.

The intellectually handicapped population is aging, and without proper support, according to the report, family members are becoming exhausted and often denied much-needed government assistance to care for their loved ones.

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"They [the intellectually handicapped] deserve much better, that's for sure," Mr. Samson said. "To say that they are neglected, yes they are. Certain elements lead us to believe that there is negligence in some aspects."

In his report, the auditor noted that for young children, whose early diagnosis is critical to their ability to integrate into society, clinical evaluations were in most cases delayed for more than two years.

In several cases, parents had no choice but to resort to the private sector to obtain a clinical evaluation, paying as much as $800 to $1,500 for a diagnosis. And more than half the parents with children under the age of 7 with autism or other developmental disabilities had to pay for private professional services because of delays in government assistance.

For the intellectually handicapped adults, the provincial auditor said the lack of specialized services had become "a major concern."

"The situation needs to be addressed. As you know, these are vulnerable people who have difficulty defending their rights. Therefore, given our findings, a major effort is needed to fix the situation," Mr. Samson said.

For instance, 20 intellectually handicapped adults had to wait eight years before a government-run agency in Montreal could place them in a group home. Others have waited as long as 11 years.

Family members and caregivers aren't given the services that are urgently needed to provide proper care. "The parents and caregivers, who are exhausted and don't have the adequate support are in danger of losing the ability to offer care and must turn to nursing homes for their children. The costs [of caring for them] with therefore be higher," the report warns.

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According to 2011-12 figures, it costs the government 50 per cent more to care for a person in group care rather than in a family setting, and costs are more than four times higher when a person is placed in a facility offering continuous assistance.

The province's total budget for the intellectually handicapped and for persons with developmental disabilities was more than $868-million in 2011-12. Less than $20-million of the total amount was set aside for families. According to the report, it has been 20 years since the government has evaluated the needs of family members and caregivers.

Mr. Samson said the problem wasn't the lack of money but how it was being used. "Before saying there was a shortage of money, I think we need to analyze and compare what must be done," he said.

The report also concluded that government-run agencies "don't know what financial resources are needed to respond to the needs of the persons [under their care]" adding that employees spent too much time behind a desk rather than helping their patients.

Junior Social Services Minister Véronique Hivon said changes are being made to resolve the more urgent problems identified in the auditor's report, which she blamed on the former Liberal government.

The recent government proposal to create a long-term care-insurance plan will focus on increasing home-care services for the elderly and the intellectually handicapped.

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"There is a major change that will be undertaken," Ms. Hivon said. "With our proposal for a long-term insurance plan, the focus will be more and more on home-care services, which is fundamental for the well-being of these persons."

The auditor also took aim at home-care services offered to Quebec's elderly population. Mr. Samson concluded that the assessment of care needs for the elderly was outdated and services inefficient. The lack of provincial standards and insufficient quality control of the homes for the elderly is a major problem that also needs to be immediately addressed.

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