BY MICHAEL JAMES
Like all good mothers, Susan Chiasson only wants what?s best for her children.
Where Chiasson?s situation differs from that of most other parents, however, lies in the fact her youngest daughter, Kimberley, who will soon turn age three, has cerebral palsy (CP), a degenerative neurological disorder that adversely affects a child?s musculature and basic motor skills.
Kimberley, whose ?spastic? form of cerebral palsy is characterized by stiff and difficult movement, requires both occupational and physiotherapy on a regular basis, otherwise her muscles will continue to atrophy and she will fail to realize her full potential.
When Kimberley, a ?preemie,? was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at six months of age, she was immediately referred to, and taken in by, the Children?s Treatment Centre on St. Jerome Street in Sudbury.
Chiasson considers herself, and her child, very fortunate to have been admitted to the facility straight away.
Other families aren?t quite so lucky, she said.
?(These days) there is a six to eight month waiting list.?
Staff shortages, due to government cutbacks.
While Chiasson has nothing but praise for the staff at the local CTC, she has a number of concerns about the facility and the quality of care it is able to provide.
Aside from the fact there aren?t enough staff to go around, there is the question of the facility itself. In Chiasson?s view, the old St. Jerome School building doesn?t pass muster.
Staff, who prefer to remain anonymous, have reported dead mice on the premises. There are also unsubstantiated rumours of an asbestos problem in the building.
?When they first moved into that old school, it was supposed to be temporary,? Chiasson said. ?It?s been 16 years now.?
According to Sally Spencer, the clinical director of Sudbury?s Children?s Treatment Centre, between 900 and 1,000 children with cerebral palsy, spinal bifida and other degenerative diseases, rely upon the services the centre provides.
At present, the treatment centre has the equivalent of six full-time physiotherapists, about the same number of occupational therapists, and, what amounts to three-and-a-half speech-language pathologists, Spencer said.
Spencer attributes the staff shortages and lengthy waiting list to 10 years of government cutbacks to CTCs in the 1990s. According to the Ontario Association of Children?s Rehabilitation Services (OACRS), the base budgets of the 19 CTCs in the province were frozen between 1990 and 1999.
In 2000, the CTCs received a total of $24 million. However, that did not make up for the 10 years of frozen budgets or the lack of funding tied to salaries, cost of living allowances and operational costs.
The OACRS is calling for a $32.5 million increase in base funding to restore service levels, but, so far, the government has yet to respond.
?They?ve (the government) eroded the budget so much that we have physiotherapists leaving and we can?t replace them,? said Spence
According to Chiasson, one of the physiotherapist?s who is leaving, it turns out, used to work with her daughter. The problem is only going to get worse, unless the government recognizes the need for increased annualized incremental funding to CTCs, said Spence.
As for the issue of moving into a newer, better equipped facility, Spencer said the Sudbury Regional Hospital is looking at moving the Sudbury CTC to the Laurentian Hospital site within the next year or two. It would not be located in the hospital, but on the campus at the Laurentian site.
In the meantime, Chiasson, and her daughter, have little choice but to make do with things as they are now.
In real terms, that translates into Kimberley spending one hour per week with a physiotherapist and another hour per week with an occupational therapist, which amounts to only half the treatment she used to receive.
Nonetheless, Chiasson considers herself to be one of the lucky ones.
After having been trained by CTC occupational and physiotherapists for two-and-a-half years, Chiasson now feels she is well-equipped to provide Kimberley with the kind of care she requires.
?It?s a full-time job,?she said. ?She (Kimberley) requires constant care.?
Indeed, after it was discovered Kimberley had CP, Chiasson was forced to quit her job as a hairdresser.
Still, despite all the difficulties, Chiasson?s thoughts are with the parents who can?t get their disabled children into the Children?s Treatment Centre.
?I can?t imagine being a parent who has to wait six to eight months just to get into the place,? she said.