Province acknowledges assisted devices programis struggling with backlog of applications
By Kelly Patterson, The Ottawa Citizen December 19, 2010
Mary Comeau, 35, shown with her friend Don Hull, 47, outside the Montfort Hospital, has been getting by with a borrowed manual wheelchair, but needed an electric model. The final step in approving the wheelchair occurred Friday: the supplier received an order number.
OTTAWA — An Ottawa woman struggling with a disability as well as cancer is to receive a power wheelchair today – after waiting five months for Health Ministry officials to approve her application.
Mary Comeau, 35, got formal confirmation late Friday afternoon that her request to Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program, which provides mobility equipment to disabled people, had finally got the green light.
The news came just days after the Citizen published a story about Comeau’s plight, and after Councillor Maria McRae, who represents the city ward where Comeau lives, asked city staff to look into the case.
Even then, no one from the assistive devices program called to let Comeau know the chair was in the works: She got word informally on Wednesday from the Citizen, which had contacted the company that supplies the wheelchairs funded by the programs.
“They kept me in the dark with everything. My health is going downhill and I didn’t know what was going on. … It was very frustrating,” Comeau said Sunday.
“I wish I could have had an apology from somebody.”
The final step in the assistive devices program’s approval process is the release of an order number to the supplier; this arrived Friday, again with no
notice to Comeau herself.
Staff at the supplier, Canada Care Medical, said the assistive devices program’s approval predates the media attention and McRae’s queries, and that it
was a coincidence that formal notice came through so quickly last week.
That suggestion makes McRae laugh: “In my seven years of public office, I have yet to see a coincidental returned call when the city staff or media is involved.”
Wheelchair approvals are done on first-come first-served basis, Health Ministry spokesman David Jensen said last week. Due to privacy laws, he could not comment on Comeau’s case, but did say the assistive devices program is struggling with a backlog, adding that plans for a new electronic system in the spring will help streamline the process.
For the past five months, Comeau has been getting by with a borrowed manual wheelchair. It has been an ordeal: she has had lung cancer for four years, and was recently diagnosed with bowel cancer.
After last week’s story ran in the newspaper, more than a dozen people contacted both MacRae’s office and the Citizen with offers of wheelchairs.
“I appreciate all the people’s responses, and I’m very thankful to them for trying to help me out,” Comeau said.
She is especially grateful to her former landlords, Diane and Nelson Cashen.
After reading about her situation, they insisted on lending her Diane’s wheelchair so Comeau could get home after being released from hospital on Wednesday.
“I felt bad, because she can only walk a few steps without it,” said Comeau.
McRae said she hopes Comeau’s case triggers a rethink of the way the assisted devices program works.
While queue-jumping should not be allowed in general, there should be some flexibility in exceptional cases, “where there is an element of urgency. …
It just comes down to basic human kindness.”
She is also troubled by the lack of communication from the province. “Could someone have called or updated her and said, ‘Hey you’re on the list, you’re
about to be approved?'”
Such issues are pressing, she added: “As our population ages … maybe it’s time to have a look at how the service is being offered.”
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