Community-care workers upset by higher rates paid to private landlords for fewer services

After hearing a CBC Investigates story about the money paid to one landlord in St. John's, a group of caregivers in Conception Bay South couldn't hold their tongues.

Home at risk of closing as government money runs scarce, homeowners say

From left, Pauline Porter, Mercedes Scott and Jackie Cluney are community-care homeowners in Conception Bay South. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Jackie Cluney couldn't believe it when she read a story about how much one St. John's landlord made for short-term lodging in the run of a year.

Having operated a community-care home in Conception Bay South for 29 years, Cluney has cared for mentally ill patients with complex needs after they leave the Waterford Hospital.

But she has never seen a paycheque quite like the ones reported by CBC Investigates last week — rates sometimes exceeding $200 a night paid to a private landlord named Leonard Phair directly from government coffers.

"He's providing a service. God love him for that," Cluney said. "But everybody wants to make a fair dollar for their work. And at the end of the day, I won't profit."

A network of 21 community-care homes was established in Conception Bay South in the 1950s as a place for Waterford Hospital patients to go after being discharged. Today, 13 of those homes remain, with about 150 clients being cared for.

We lay off, or we take it out of a line of credit. You would never let your staff know that.- Jackie Cluney

Many of the patients deal with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and addiction, but can end up in the home only after being referred by their doctor.

The province pays the homes $79 a day for each patient, with the expectation to provide 24-hour care — a far cry from the rates of $150-250 a night charged by Leonard Phair with only a bed and meals provided.

Mercedes Scott, a fellow community-care home operator, worries the requirement of a referral results in people staying in bedsitters or private shelters when they could fit the criteria for the community-care homes.

"I wonder how many of them would fit our program that we don't even hear tell of," she said.

Each home has employees, most of which are paid minimum wage, and most of the homes are run by owners struggling to keep their heads above water, the homeowners said.

"If I can't make payroll, I'll just work myself," Scott said.

"We lay off, or we take it out of a line of credit," Cluney said. "You would never let your staff know that."

'Profit shouldn't be a dirty word'

The homeowners said they've discussed pay increases with government several times, but have been told there is no more money available to them.

They need 20 clients in order to turn a profit, but each home is given a licence for how many clients they are allowed to house.

None of those licences have changed since the houses were opened, said Cluney, and most are far below 20 clients.

"Profit shouldn't be a dirty word," Cluney said. "After 29 years in business, it shouldn't be a dirty word."

The community-care program in C.B.S. involves a network of homeowners who house and care for people who have been discharged from the Waterford Hospital. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

The homeowners said all they want is for their rates to be renegotiated and for the government to recognize their role in housing vulnerable people and providing an important service.

"Someone decided it was fair to give [Phair] that $200 a day to take care of Joe Blow," Cluney said. "But then the powers that be in government sit down and say, 'This is all you're going to get to provide 24-hour care.' And in that 24-hour care, you're talking about a lot."

"I'd like to see the funding match the expectation," said Scott. "Because we do have a lot of expectations placed on us, and the funding just doesn't match it."

CBC News contacted the provincial government for comment, but has not received a reply as of publication.

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