Speaking up for the silent

If she could speak, Monica Reinhard would ask the NSW Disability Services Minister John Ajaka why he plans to close her home of 42 years.

Monica Reinhard was a sweet and happy child; though she could never speak she could make a few distinctive sounds. She communicated through facial expressions and using her hands. She also had a great affinity for animals.

“As a child, Monica could walk up to the most vicious dog and put her arms around it,” her brother, and legal guardian, Barry Reinhard told The Lamp.

“She loved to help around the house with small chores. She never had behavioral problems and my parents were able to send her to a special school to give her as normal a life as possible. But as she grew older her needs became greater and by the time she was 12, mum and dad couldn’t cope. Forty-two years ago she went to Stockton, where guarantees were given to my parents that the state would look after Monica for the rest of her life.”

Citing the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the O’Farrell Government plans to close all of the state’s residential care facilities and hand over all disability services to private agencies by 2018.

This is despite Productivity Commission concerns that under the NDIS private agencies may be unable to provide the level of service required for people like Monica, who have highly complex needs.

Apart from her inability to speak Monica has been unable to walk for 10 years, following degeneration of muscles and hip joints as well as escalation of a mild staph infection.

In these cases, the Productivity Commission said, government agencies might be the only tenable service providers.

Monica cannot speak but her brother Barry can and on behalf of her, and the many Stockton residents who have no living relatives to act as guardians, he will speak to as many politicians as possible to ask them not to close Stockton.

“It is morally wrong for any government to walk away from the care of the disabled like this. For them to say that people like my sister will be fine with the NDIS is just crap,” Barry said. “They have no idea what they’re dealing with.

“The NDIS will be great for assisting many disabled people to live in the community. Politicians like to use these people as exhibitions on the TV news to show how great the NDIS will be. But, compared with Monica and others like her, these are normal people with all their faculties or maybe they have a disability like Downs syndrome.

“They are not at all like the people who need residential care in homes like Stockton, where there is a community of 600 plus staff who understand the individual needs of 350 patients because they deal with them day in and day out.

“Private agencies are going to look for cheap labour and put people on shifts in group homes, and likely move them from place to place so they’ll be unable to develop any understanding of clients’ behaviors and needs.

“This has been tried before when people were moved from institutions to group homes and the reality was a lot either ended up back in institutions, or dead on the side of a road.”

Barry Reinhard is not alone in fearing the results of this latest round of “deinsititutionalisation” without recognition of the complex needs that cannot be filled by private agencies.

In voicing his concerns, the chief executive of the Mental Health Council of Australia, Frank Quinlan, said closing institutions in the seventies had “literally put people on the streets” because nothing had been put in their place.

He warned that if important services were reduced to fund the NDIS then people might end up losing one set of services but not being eligible for the new set.

“The NDIS ought not be an oasis in a desert – great if you make it there, but devastating if you don’t.”

People with disabilities deserve better.