Wednesday, October 05, 2005

View from the Frontline

Over the course of the past couple of months, the pace and number of registration appointments for people applying for social assistance in my corner of New Brunswick have increased tremendously. This is due to a combination of factors: new types of services processed such as Childcare subsidies and Prenatal Benefits for individuals for low income earners, lack of cover-off for the frontline screening and registration team during the summer months when they take their much earned vacation time, no cover-off when someone is ill (which occurs often due to the many viruses and colds carried in by the public), staff turnover and training of new staff with a steep learning curve to overcome, and the fact that a year ago it was decided to decrease the number of appointments a day from 5 to 4 per worker in order to allow time to process necessary legislative paperwork and to help with burnout conditions. (5 appointments should never have been allowed in the first place. It was too much) The time between a telephone "screen in" where the applicants provide pertinent information and the registration/verification appointment has gone from 2 days to 2 weeks.

This is unacceptable and barbaric. The Social Assistance office anywhere is the last stop on the road to financial help. People who call for help are in crisis financially, emotionally, spiritually and often physically. Whatever the reason, they need help and they need it fast. By the time a person hits the bottom of the humiliation mountain cliff and sucks in their pride to sound out their cry for help, waiting 2 days is often a burden. 2 weeks is a bloody lifetime, especially for a family with young children and no other familial supports in the community. Where are they to go and what are they to do??

Anyone who qualifies and who can jump through the multitude of bureaucratic hoops called policy and legislation has to have exhausted all means of help. Even then, there are many ways to "screen out" and disqualify them before they enter the front door. The most notorious blockage is the Economic Unit policy, which was first introduced by the McKenna Liberals and maintain by the present Lord Tories. Designed to avoid multiple cheques going to one address a la Kate and Allie scenario, the policy has been used and abused and changed and altered and bastardized along the way. It disallows a single person who would receive $290.00 per month to move in with another to share rent. Excuse me? How much is rent???

Today, I observed two of my colleagues put in the third day without one of their teammates who was out sick with a respiratory virus. The doctor has told her to stay home for a week. Stretched both cognitively, and emotionally after accomodating for 6 appointments a day, juggling various emergency applications AND training a new member of the team, my two colleagues left the office exhausted, stressed and very unhappy. These are two women who have dedicated their 30+ working years to the frontline of New Brunswick, helping individuals and families; the sick and the mentally ill, the transient, and the recently abused woman, the recividist, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the depressed, are on their own. Aside from the everyday emotional assault of listening, caring and helping people who are at the end of hope, they now have to deal with the over-the-top angry and frustrated applicant. Frontline means frontline..........they are the first face of government and they get the brunt of the results of cutbacks in the wrong areas and bad decisions that add more work processing under the umbrella of integrated services (looks good on paper) without more staff.
Their Manager has tried to raise the red flag, and has sent various memos indicating the severity of the situation. She's been asked to write a business plan filled with statistical bullshit and high falootin' crap in order to justify the need for some breathing space. Like she doesn't have anything better to do. She has the largest number of staff in her unit, and juggles various issues and requests for bullshit statistics daily. I guess if she pulled an all-nighter, she'd be able to find the time to grant the Red-tape request.

I say...........excuse me Senior Management people................let me invite you to my piece of New Brunswick for a day........get your head out of your ass and come listen to the human stories that make up the improverished community........the human stories that wrench your heart and make you tear up......the everyday human stories that make you think there for the the grace of God go I.........and then I dare you to ask for a business plan.

1 comment:

Anselm (Not the Saint) said...

Stunningly frank and revealing...a must read for all those that are not aware.