So­cial work­ers should be bet­ter ad­vo­cates

The Compass - - Editorial - Pat Cullen So­cial Af­fairs Pat Cullen is a jour­nal­ist and who lives in Car­bon­ear. She can be reached at 5961505 or

So­cial work­ers should act as bet­ter ad­vo­cates for the peo­ple they serve.

Wanda and Gene White of Broad Cove, Con­cep­tion Bay, a cou­ple in late mid­dle-age, need an ad­vo­cate and need one badly. They are both dis­abled and live on in­come sup­port.

Wanda has a de­gen­er­a­tive neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der called Friedre­ich’s ataxia. It has robbed her of her abil­ity to speak clearly and left her in a wheel­chair.

She can only com­mu­ni­cate with me by tap­ping out mes­sages on a com­puter. Her os­teo­poro­sis is so se­vere that even turn­ing in her bed could cause a bone to break. She has other health is­sues in­clud­ing lung prob­lems and ul­cers.

The Whites live and pay bills, ex­clud­ing a power bill which gives them a mere two hours of heat a day, on roughly $370 ev­ery two weeks.

Wanda is un­able to see her doc­tors when she needs be­cause she can only travel by taxi, a lux­ury her bud­get will not al­low. She last saw an os­teo­poro­sis spe­cial­ist in St. John’s five years ago. She is sup­posed to see that spe­cial­ist ev­ery six months, but she can’t af­ford to get to the city and back.

Vis­its to her fam­ily doc­tor in Old Per­li­can are also spo­radic, usu­ally un­der­taken when a friend gives her a lift. The fam­ily doc­tor mon­i­tors her neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der and other con­di­tions, so vis­its to him should be more than hap­haz­ard, but un­for­tu­nately her fi­nan­cial po­si­tion will not al­low her to do bet­ter. The of­fice of Steve Crocker, her MHA, has been made aware of the prob­lem and I can only hope some ac­tion will be taken.

When a per­son ex­pe­ri­ences noth­ing but heart­break and fail­ure, it is easy to lose hope. Wanda White is los­ing hope and that loss of hope is cost­ing her money she doesn’t have.

She pays $22 a month for an over-the-counter cal­cium sup­ple­ment to help with her os­teo­poro­sis. An email sent to me from the depart­ment of Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices said gov­ern­ment could pay for this, if her doc­tor au­tho­rized it. It seems like a sim­ple so­lu­tion but only time will tell if it’s as sim­ple as the gov­ern­ment spokesper­son makes it sound.

Wanda has ap­par­ently never pur­sued it. She ac­cepted the stip­u­la­tion of Bud­get 2016 and the shock­ing state­ments that fol­lowed. Most over-the­counter med­i­ca­tions were not to be cov­ered, even with a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion. That in­cluded hers. She was prob­a­bly too worn out to do any fol­low up.

She also needs con­sid­er­able den­tal work. She has no bottom den­tures and her up­per plate is held to­gether by a den­ture ad­he­sive. This means she has dif­fi­culty chew­ing which causes di­ges­tive prob­lems, her ul­cers are be­com­ing more ir­ri­tated and the cost of the ad­he­sive takes an­other $25 each month from a pal­try in­come-sup­port cheque. It is just one more dif­fi­culty she would not have to face if she had some­one to speak on her be­half.

An ar­range­ment be­tween the depart­ment of Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion, Skills and Labour and New­found­land Power, with the Whites’ per­mis­sion, took $150 a month from their cheque as pay­ment to­ward heat and light. It was re­duced a few weeks ago to $100 monthly.

The Whites are on an equal pay­ment plan with the power com­pany. The $150 meant they could turn on the heat in their home for two hours a day. Ac­cord­ing to Wanda, the re­duced pay­ment of $100 would mean no heat at all.

In an email, she wrote, “$100 is less than $150. The only way I can af­ford that two hours per day is by hav­ing that ex­tra $50 ev­ery month. $100 a month would mean no heat at all, just lights.”

With a bit of lob­by­ing the de­ci­sion was re­versed and the orig­i­nal pay­ment of $150 re­in­stated. So the Whites can keep their mea­gre heat ra­tion. It will still mean they’ll be liv­ing in the cold and sleep­ing in the cold, but this win­ter they will at least have that measly bit of warmth.

A raft of phone calls and emails were sent over the past few weeks ex­plain­ing their sit­u­a­tion. Ev­ery gov­ern­ment depart­ment that can help them, ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion from their MHA’s of­fice to Le­gal Aid is now aware of their cir­cum­stances.

But as this raft of emails and phone calls are sent and made, I won­der where is their so­cial worker? Where is that per­son who should take more in­ter­est in them and ad­vo­cate for them?

Wanda White is a tena­cious woman, a qual­ity that serves her well as she tries to cut through a mass of red tape. But she is also a sick woman bat­tling a bu­reau­cracy that seems stacked against her, for it is do­ing lit­tle to help her and her dis­abled hus­band.

It should not be this way. The Whites sim­ply want to be treated fairly. And fair­ness for them is long over­due.

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