A local disability advocate is looking for answers – and possibly a new wheelchair.
Jeff Preston says his almost eight-year-old wheelchair broke when he was on the way home from the London Knights’ playoff game on Tuesday evening. The chair would normally be replaced after the five year mark and Preston has been asking the government for help purchasing a new one for over a year.
“I have been talking to MPPs, trying to work with Deb Matthews and trying to get a hold of Eric Hoskins, the Minister of Health,” Preston said on AM980’s Craig Needles Show on Wednesday. “We have a real problem with the way that we’re funding wheelchairs and the ways that we’re funding the support services around wheelchairs.”
Matthews is in China and was unavailable for comment. Hoskins’ office did not respond to messages from AM980.
Preston said the problems in the system have only been exacerbated in recent months.
“The biggest provider of sale and service here in Ontario, Shopper’s Home Care, decided to get out of the wheelchair game,” Preston said. “They decided they couldn’t make it work with the funding that was available, so they pulled out.”
That means the process is even more complicated – due to government regulations for the Central Equipment Pool for High Technology Wheelchairs.
“Until recently, I was mandated by the Ministry that I could only purchase my wheelchair through Shopper’s and only service it through Shopper’s,” Preston said. “I’ve been lucky. I was finally able to get through the wait list to purchase a new wheelchair, a new chair should arrive in the middle of July if everything goes well.”
But, if Preston’s current chair isn’t able to be repaired – that leaves him lacking mobility for the next three months.
“I have worked so hard to try and live independently and I have worked so hard to allow my parents to have the peace of retirement that they so dearly deserve,” Preston said. “And after all this work, it could all be for not. I might not just be stuck in my home. I might be stuck in the place that I am sitting depending on potentially my parents and definitely my personal support workers to now put in overtime just to make sure I’m able to move to get to the bathroom.”
“I’ve not just lost my independence in some ways here. This really is a threat to my dignity.”
Bill Walker, a Progressive Conservative MPP representing Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, called the government’s inaction “unacceptable.”
“First and foremost (Preston’s wheelchair) should have been replaced after five years,” Walker told AM980. “Last night it breaks, no actual access to having it fixed. To me, that’s a callous, callous way to go about things.”
Preston says some other people with disabilities in the province are lagging behind even the position he’s in – and government cost cutting is the reason why.
“Funds were reduced and Shopper’s started making changes,” he said. “Suddenly you couldn’t get access to sales reps because there just weren’t as many as there used to be.”
If his disability was less intense, Preston would qualify for the ADP (Assistive Devices Program) and be able to get assistance or even a new chair from a series of vendors – not just one.
“I’m feeling very much like I’m being singled out, based on my disability,” he told AM980. “I have to go through a lesser service and I have to get in this big queue, when there are ready and willing people to do this type of service who can’t.”
Walker says the provincial Liberals have cut too deep in this area.
“They cut $20-million out. That’s just unacceptable,” Walker said. “How can you cut $20-million from an assisted devices program? It’s not like people like Jeff don’t need the device. This is his lifeline.”
Motion Specialties has taken over the Shopper’s contract temporarily, but their business is smaller than Shopper’s Home Health and Preston worries that could cause similar problems to the ones people with disabilities have been experiencing for years.
“We will have more people in Ontario stuck in broken wheelchairs that can’t get access to repair,” Preston lamented. “Or even worse, stuck in old wheelchairs that they can’t replace because there are simply not enough people in the system able to push through the paper to make it happen.”
“They need quality service and they need timely service,” Walker said. “The government has to get their act together. They’ve cut all kinds of things in healthcare. This is just a continuation.”
For now, Preston will have to keep waiting and wondering what’s next.
“This could have been avoided. I could have been in a new wheelchair months and months and months ago,” Preston said.