MY CUP IS HALF FULL

Mark Pickup

July 1, 2013

The provincial government is going to cut home support services to people with disabilities. Why? The obvious answer is to reduce expenditures in a time of lower government revenues.

My concern is with the impact of reducing needed support services from those who need them most: severely disabled Albertans.

The conflicting messages are striking: On one hand, the government has moved away from institutional care, as we see with the closing of Michener Centre in Red Deer and putting its residents into the community. On the other hand, community home supports are being cut. It is very short-sighted.

For 30 years there has been a social policy trend toward community living. Now the provincial government is frustrating that policy with budget cuts for Alberta's disabled citizens.

Supporting people with disabilities to live in their communities makes economic sense. It is much cheaper to send support services to people's homes and provide home care than to pay for institutional care and auxiliary hospitals. That's health economics 101. Not only does it make economic sense but it is good social policy.

Most people prefer to live in a home setting in their communities; it is better for emotional and spiritual well-being. It's good for the soul to belong to a community and enjoy the connections it brings. Human beings are social by nature; they need the interdependence of a community.

The government cuts to services and care are detrimental to the common good. Encouraging and assisting people with disabilities to live full lives is part of the common good. People with disabilities are indispensable members of their communities in the same way disabled children are indispensable members of their families.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks directly to the meaning of this principle. It says that the common good is to be understood as, "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their potential more fully and more easily. The common good concerns the life of all" (1906). It goes on to call for prudence, especially from "those who exercise the office of authority."

UNDESIRED CONSEQUENCES

The Oxford Dictionary defines prudence as being "careful to avoid undesired consequences." Surely making difficult lives more difficult is an undesired consequence of withdrawing needed supports for people with severe disabilities.

The common good is most effectively brought to realization in the political community. The provincial government's reduced funding of needed supports for community living of people with disabilities frustrates the greater common good.

Realization of the common good is also found within our faith community. We are called to include the disabled. Our Catholic hospitals care for the sick. We fund Catholic social service agencies to help the disabled and their families. We're doing our part.

We are also called to speak up for the weak. In the case of the government cutbacks, we have been given the opportunity to show our solidarity with disabled Albertans to our elected provincial representatives. Care of the most vulnerable is a sacred trust; funding supports for Alberta's disabled citizens must be restored to previous levels and even increased despite fiscal challenges.

A letter to The Edmonton Journal (June 8) from Heidi Janz illustrated the dire consequences of government cuts to service providers.

She has cerebral palsy, and relies on support services that have "made it possible for me to work as a professor at the University of Alberta, travel to speak at conferences and so on. The demise of this support service will, in effect, herald the end of my active career."

Happily, the government relented in cutting support to three supportive living cooperatives, on which Dr. Janz relied. It happened 10 days after her letter appeared in The Journal, and a flurry of well-deserved bad publicity caused a reversal of funding cuts.

SOME FUNDING RESTORED

Alberta Health Services president Dr. Chris Eagle announced that funding for the cooperative supports would be restored. He conceded that in a time of major changes, more effort must be given to listen to families and patients with special needs.

It's easy to provide good care to the weakest in times of plenty but the real test of a society's moral fibre is to provide those services in times of austerity. We must resolutely refuse to cut services to the disabled, looking for every other area to cut first. Services to the disabled ensure their dignity and opportunities to thrive.