I met Dr. Hennen and his colleagues for the first time the end of May when I took the Blue Jay to a transition clinic for young adults in Halifax. And I must say that I was very impressed with what they were/are doing - armed with the latest clinical guidelines for the care of adults with developmental disabilities, Dr. Hennen (a psychiatrist) and Dr. Clarke (a family doctor), joined by a supporting cast of a few other doctors and nurses offer a complete assessment of the young adult's physical and mental health, making appropriate recommendations to the family doctor for continuing care and, where necessary, referrals to other specialists.
Yeah, I was impressed - because really, how often do individuals with special needs (particularly adults) appear to be after-thoughts found on the side of the road, left to fend for themselves best as they can? Whether it be the health system, the criminal justice or elsewhere, this sadly appears more likely than not.
So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see Dr. Hennen's op ed in today's paper - an op ed which essentially sets out Nova Scotia's history (the good, the bad and the ugly) over the past five years in dealing with persons with developmental disabilities.
Offering both kudos and criticism where appropriate, Dr. Hennen notes the self-assessment undertaken with much fan-fare in 2008 by the Services for Persons with Disability (SPD) program, following which fewer than half of the resulting recommendations were fully implemented to the two reviews conducted by that same program following reports of abuse at a residential care centre in 2010 and the terrible treatment of an autistic young man in the Braemore Home in Sydney in 2011; both resulting in numerous recommendations, few of which were actually acted upon.
From research showing that half of the 156 adult Nova Scotians with developmental disabilities interviewed were unhappy with their living arrangements to the April 2011 report to the Standing Committee on Community Services concerning the inadequacy of residential options available to Nova Scotians with developmental disabilities (including the fact that one-third of individuals referred with developmental disability and psychiatric or behavioural challenges did not actually have mental illness, but were troubled by the inappropriate residential situations in which they had been placed). Kudos to the committee’s members who actually had the guts to admit their lack of awareness of the key issues.
From the Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention program for pre-school children with autism started in 2005 (for which demand far outstripped supply) that five years later finally opened its door to allow access for all such children to the highly successful Access to Community Education & Employment (ACEE) program, piloted in 2007, that offers a one-year program in life skills and vocational experiences to youth following the completion of high school, which was finally awarded secure funding in 2009.
Alas, Dr. Hennen fails to note the ACEE program (like so many) is only available to youth who reside in the Halifax Regional Municipality, leaving many, many who could benefit from it out in the cold (and most likely stuck in high school until they are 21 due to the lack of any other options).
Looking forward, Dr. Hennen notes that although that five years ago teaching programs for health professionals had little developmental disability content, the new undergraduate curriculum provides medical students with a minimum of 13 hours of such content over four years, with a further six hours of inter-professional learning about developmental disabilities planned. Family practice trainees will also have defined learning experiences in each of two years of training.
Leaving us exactly where, you ask?
Cross-posted at A Primer on Special Needs and the Law