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Funding shortfalls threaten popular Parkland business

Residential and day programs for vulnerable adults are facing shortfalls that make their futures uncertain, say executive directors

Women working in a restaurant kitchen

A popular bakery and restaurant on Grandview’s Main Street is quietly going broke and it’s not because no one is buying buns or stopping by for lunch.

The bustle inside The Friendly Corner Bake Shop’s belies the predicament facing the agency that has operated it since 1993 — an accumulating deficit that threatens to shut the shop down, jeopardizing other programs Grandview Gateways Inc. offers.

The Parkland agency, which works with adults with intellectual disabilities, has operated a bakery and restaurant for the past 20 years as its flagship day program.

But chronic underfunding prevents the organization from offering wages to its support workers that compete with other local employers, GGI’s executive director Carolyn Crossley said.

Provincial funding, based on a per diem for each client in the program, allowed them to pay support workers $12.06 an hour. Two years ago, they were facing staff shortfalls — people going where wages were higher — so the board decided to bump wages by $2.

“We increased the wages hoping we could work with the province and see agencies paid a little bit better,” said Crossley, adding that they weren’t operating only on hope. In 2003, the province of Manitoba had identified a need to increase wages to as much as $15 per hour for support workers in this sector.

But after 2007, “everything stopped,” said Crossley. Funding increases fell behind and didn’t keep up with minimum wage or cost-of-living increases. The sector appeared forgotten, and while their move to boost wages helped them keep good staff, it has also put them in the red.

“Now we’re well staffed, but we are going broke,” she said. “And we are getting a little bit desperate. We are now into our line of credit. Our operating dollars are down to nil.”

Provincial officials told the organization at a February meeting to discuss the deficit that they should consider an alternative day program. If no additional funds are found, the agency’s board is personally responsible for covering the deficit. Members are questioning how long they can continue.

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Bakery storefront.
The popular bake shop on Grandview's Main Street has been serving lunches and selling baked goods since opening in the spring of 1993. photo: Audrey Kotak

Shuttering the bake shop would not only be an economic and service blow to Grandview, it would sever relationships between clients and the community that have taken years to form. Their programs support 24 persons and the agency employs 40 persons most of whom reside in Grandview, Roblin, Gilbert Plains, Tootinaowaziibeeng Reserve and Inglis. They also have four group homes and a seniors’ program at the town Activity Centre.

The Friendly Corner Bake Shop gives the agency visibility and connection with the community, Crossley said.

“Some of our people almost have a celebrity status,” said Crossley. “Community members know all of our people. The interaction is 100 per cent successful with the community. So I’m not sure what kind of community program that you could have as an alternative to that.”

About 150 people in Grandview turned out to a town hall meeting last week to express concern about the agency’s predicament.

“We’re sitting in a kind of limbo,” Crossley said, adding that the worse-case scenario would be terminating their service purchase agreement with Family Services. In that case, about 40 people would be affected including 18 individuals who would then have no day program to attend.

Gateview’s funding crunch isn’t isolated.

Jason Dyck, executive director of Prairie Partners Inc. in Boissevain, which runs the iconic Sawmill Tea and Coffee Company, says there are at least 16 agencies across Westman and Parkland struggling because of underfunding.

Prairie Partners has basically “only bought ourselves some time,” after dealing with a similar funding shortfall by trimming a third of its staff and shifting about a half-dozen high-needs persons in their care to other agencies, Dyck said.

But their problems aren’t over.

“I would say we’re in the eye of the hurricane right now,” he said, adding that Prairie Partners was facing a $500,000 operating deficit two years ago when they called in the province to audit them. They asked for the audit because they’d been unable to convince provincial officials that the shortfall had anything to do with underfunding, he said.

“We were in an identical predicament as Grandview,” said Dyck.

“We knew we were underfunded but the people we were dealing with in government said, ‘no, you’re not,’” he said. That audit, plus a review showed it wasn’t poor management causing the shortfall, Dyck said. In fact, they got high marks for quality of service, and were shown to be operating cost effectively as well, he said.

“And it basically recommended to the province that they needed to better fund these kinds of services, because if they were to try and find an alternative to this, it would cost them way more and they wouldn’t be guaranteed as high a service delivery.”

Their funding was increased, but only to the level that would allow them to pay $12.06. So they continue to face the hiring challenge Grandview tried to offset by raising wages, Dyck said.

“It’s grossly inadequate as far as what we need to pay. We are one of the top five employers in our community and we can’t come near the wages that the school offers their educational assistants, and we can’t come near the wages that the RHAs offer their health-care aides.”

Dyck added that he disputes the government’s stated position that it has increased the funding for care of adults with intellectual disabilities by as much as 300 to 400 per cent since the late 1990s.

That sounds impressive, but the real problem is it continues to underfund these services, he said.

“It is still completely inadequate for the actual costs of delivering quality service in this field,” he said.

“We support what the province considers to be some of the most vulnerable people in the province. But they are traditionally people who have been marginalized for so long they get forgotten and they aren’t given the priority they deserve.”

Crossley said they met with their provincial MLA Stan Struthers about the matter in late March but have no assurances anything is about to change.

“We are very unsure of our future,” she said.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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