Advocacy group opposes proposed complex-care facility in Tay

·6 min read

Cherry Blossom Village has run into some unexpected opposition, again.

A second letter, since Drs. Howard Bloom and Robert Cooper launched the procedure of getting a minister's zoning order for their live-in care facility for those with complex-care needs, has been sent to Tay's council criticizing the model proposed by the duo.

The latest was a piece of correspondence sent in by Family Alliance Ontario (FAO) voicing their concerns about the facility planned for Triple Bay Road.

"The problems of the model that congregates people and puts them in a setting away from others, (is it) perpetuates opportunity for harm," said Cindy Mitchell, vice president of FAO, an Oshawa-based autonomous alliance of citizens who offer knowledge, tools, and networking opportunities to individuals with disabilities, their families and friends.

"And it starts out with good intentions," she added.

The reason they sent in the letter was because they didn't want another Huronia Regional Centre to happen, said FAO president Carla O'Neill.

"When you have people who really don't have a choice where to live and they're living in a big building, it looks all good at the beginning, but it ends in abuse," she said. "We're doing a project on survivor stories so these things don't happen again."

The two said they would prefer a different model to be used for those with complex-care needs.

"(The individuals should) have a home of their own and people they want to live with," said O'Neill. "We really just wanted to have people look at these. There's tons of stuff across the province with different models that don't seem to get recognized."

She explained with an example.

"Rougemont has been around for years," said O'Neill. "It's an apartment building and a percentage was given with people with disabilities and seniors. They're distributed all over the building and not isolated in one floor.

"It's created a community where people with disabilities are recognized as citizens. They have people that look out for them. They have friends in the buiding that are not people with disabilities. Once they've made those connections, they look out for other people, too. If we continue to build old traditional models, we will never be able to transition to new models."

Both said they had never visited Apple Blossom Village or any of the other facilities that Bloom and Cooper run in Simcoe County.

O'Neill added that being contained in a facility takes away individual choice and control over life.

"When that's taken away, you can't really say they have a life," she added.

Bloom and Cooper said the truth couldn't be further from what O'Neill and Mitchell understood of their facilities and model.

"That's interestng because that's exactly the opposite of the programming we have," said Bloom. "Our program design is individually based, person-centred, ecologically-centred and family-focused. The milieu for each person is designed based on their social, recreation skills, interests and family involvement."

Notwithstanding pandemic measures, he said, everybody at Apple Blossom Village in Oro-Medonte is always part of the overall community.

"That's part of how our facility works," said Bloom. "Every one of our residents is out and enjoying the community, working in the community and enjoying parks and recreation and facilities throughout Simcoe County."

He talked about a current young resident of the Oro-Medonte facility as an example.

"He is responsible for managing the food orders for our agency," said Bloom. "He has relationships with all our suppliers. He goes through the food inventory. He receives that food inventory, and he puts it away. And he's so proud he's part of that. It's his job. He can't wait to go to college next year for a culinary program so he can learn more skills to work at Cherry Blossom in the kitchen."

All residents have choice built into all their programming because it matters, he added.

This is the trademark of the model the facilities have created, said Cooper.

"What we have done is consulted with international experts on design for facilities for people with autism," said Cooper. "We used the latest research from England and the U.S. to design and develop the best possible facility. We also use the highest quality standards to develop programs for the residents that we take care of."

In addition, he said, the process involved consultations with families, support staff, and behavioural experts.

"It's really about helping our clients develop to their maximum capacity and helping them grow to the extent they can," said Cooper. "People have different abilities and they achieve different levels of functioning. And not everyone has family that's capable or able to care for their family members at home. Not all of our residents have close family.

"Any programs we provide don't take away from any of the supports out there."

As a physician who deals with addictions' patients, Cooper said, he understands very well how requirements can vary from one person to the next, and that's why Apple Blossom Village or Cherry Blossom Village isn't an answer to all problems on the spectrum.

"We care for people who require at least one-to-one care and staffing overnight for supervision," said Bloom, adding to his colleague's comment. "We have turned people away because they would be a better fit elsewhere."

Mitchell said it takes between $80,000 and $125,000 per year to support someone living in a facility.

"If you were to pour that kind of money into a family and ask if they could build a life for their child, most would say yes," she said. "Rather than send Johnny away from a family would you want him to live in a community, most of them would say yes. We have an option to change this model."

Neither Cooper nor Bloom would confirm how much it costs to house an individual at Apple Blossom Village. Bloom said it's consistent with what other similar organizations charge and noted that neither Apple Blossom Village not Cherry Blossom Village will receive any direct funding from the province.

"Complex special needs teams look after each case in the region. They do all the oversight and quality assurance to place the youth."

There wasn't much discussion around the letter as it came up Wednesday at Tay's council meeting. The correspondence was addressed to Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing, whose office did not respond to a request to comment in time for publication.

However, Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop said she had reached out to the minister's office with her feedback on the matter.

"I just wanted to let them know that this was a project that I know the municipality was in favour," she said. "I just wanted to let Minister (Steve) Clark know that this is a reputable company, contrary to what the letter indicates.

"It's like a large institutional setting. It's one-on-one care, and they have high standards of quality. I think it's good for our riding where there are unique situations in which individuals need that type of support, care and programming for which they need to be in a group home setting. And we still want them to be close to home. I do know the need in our area, so I think it fits."

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,