René Cassin seniors drop-in centre closure sparks protest

René Cassin seniors drop-in centre closure sparks protest

Quebec promises of continued services questioned on clarity and transparency

By P.A. Sévigny
With files from Beryl Wajsman, Editor

In the face of our report last week about the west-end Centre intégré universitaire de santé et des services sociaux’ (CIUSS) apparent decision to close the CSSS Cavendish (René Cassin) Caregiver Support Centre, mixed signals were received from Quebec City.

However, during a Friday afternoon telephone interview, Joanne Beauvais, media spokesperson for Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barette, told The Suburban that the regional health board will, in fact close the 25-year-old drop-in centre.

“On Monday morning, CIUSS ceo Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg will clarify what we intend to do with the senior Caregivers Program,” said Beauvais.

Indeed, Dr. Rosenberg did just that and D’Arcy McGee riding MNA and Parliamentary assistant to Premier Philippe Couillard David Birnbaum sent The Suburban the following statement:

“Services to seniors who are ill and support to their family caregivers are fundamental concerns in our community. Any changes to those services have to be made with great care. I’ve been assured by Lawrence Rosenberg, CEO of the CUISSS, that every single client of the René-Cassin seniors’ drop-in centre will be accompanied by a social worker to similar if not improved services in the area, at the Cummings Seniors’ Centre or at Henri Bradet, adjacent to the Julius Richardson.” 

But community reaction continues to be one of unease, particularly in light of the fact that the area Réné-Cassin serves has one of the largest concentrations of seniors in the country. And many don`t like the words being used as reassurance.

Beauvais said that closing the center is part of the regional health center’s plan to “re-organize” and provide “real services” for the growing numbers of weak and vulnerable seniors who need those services.

“Oh really?” asked social worker Sharon Freedman. “What services?”

As Freedman’s mother goes to the CLSC Drop-in Center three times a week, the veteran social worker has yet to hear about what the local CIUSSS has in mind to replace the kind of pro-active services the center offers to her mother and all of the other vulnerable patients that are left in their care.
Several senior care facilities, including the the Maimonides Day Hospital, the Jewish Eldercare Centre’s drop-in center and the Jewish General Hospital’s well-known psychosocial (PS) Center have already been closed for over a year, Freedman believes that the demand for places will soon create a flourishing private market for senior day care facilities.

“Why are they closing the drop-in center when most of its clients are only a floor above their social workers who can visit them any time,” asked Freedman.

Following several calls made by The Suburban to various executives, including Francine Dupuis—a veteran health executive who was recently named as the deputy chair and executive director of the city’s West End CIUSSS, media spokesman Hugo Larouche issued a press statement that mentions that the closure was the result of an earlier decision taken at the Centre de santé et des services sociaux (CSSS) Cavendish level long before the Couillard administration’ controversial Bill 10 created the regional health boards.
However, as Dupuis was the director of the CSSS Cavendish before she took up her new position at the head of the new CIUSSS, many working professionals believe that plans to reform and “re-organize” the Senior Caregivers Programs have been on the table for a long time but with no public consultation.

“Seniors are not old shoes to be discarded,” wrote Myra Rappaport in an open letter addressed to Dr. Barette in this week’s edition of The Suburban. “After a lifetime of service, we needn’t apologize for being alive.”

As Rappaport’s husband is one of the centre’s clients who will be adversely affected by the center’s closing, Rappaport’s letter goes on to mention how important the drop-in center is for caregivers who desperately need some time to get on with their own work and their own life even as they continue to care for their loved ones at home.

A press release issued by the CIUSSS clearly states that the “reorganization” will not include any layoffs of any members of the center’s working staff. But Liza Lacasse—a regular caretaker at the center—told The Suburban that she still doesn’t know what she’s going to do or where she’s going to go once the regional health authorities close the center.

Others, including a driver (who wished to remain anonymous) told The Suburban that he has no union to protect him after which he said that as of the end of this month, he too was out of a job.

He is already known as a kind and gentle man who knew how to break through the isolation that so often defines the challenges in a vulnerable senior’s life, and Freedman and others recognize that the loss of his services will only add to the devastating break in the routines that provide some kind of stability for weak and vulnerable parents and partners who must deal with the slippery slope that continues to define the onset of senile dementia.

While CIUSS authorities continue to stress how they will not be getting rid of their ongoing research into social gerontology as well as other front-line services for seniors and their families, several CSSS union officials have already posted a ten-point on-line petition in which they state the reasons, including the center’s 25 years of extensive experience, as to why CIUSSS authorities should reconsider their decision to close the center.

While at least two anonymous sources have already told The Suburban that they expect health authorities will resort to other CSSS facilities such as the Henri Bradet Residential Center and Westmount’s St. Marguerite’s to help provide services for the caregiver support program, other community resources such as the local Cummings Seniors Centre are still waiting for CIUSS authorities to come up with a definite plan for the community’s growing number of vulnerable seniors and their families.

During a telephone interview, Lesli Green—a senior executive with Federation CJA (Combined Jewish Appeal) did say that the Cummings Senior Center “…would be ready to accommodate some of the center’s patients on a ‘case by case’ basis,” but that there was no specific funding (as yet) available for the service.

During a previous interview, Herb Finkleberg—the executive director of the Cummings Seniors Center told The Suburban that the center already has a full house and the only available option was to open up the center on Sundays for the people who needed their services.
However, as budget cuts remain at the heart of this issue, Finkleberg also stated that he could not provide services on a Sunday because he did not (as yet) have the money to pay for them.

In a recent letter addressed to Birnbaum, Côte Saint Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather reminded the Premier’s Parliamentary Secretary about his duty to look into the problem.

“As you know,” wrote Housefather, “…our caregivers are very affected by all the closures of the structured socialization groups for frail and vulnerable seniors. Many have dementia, memory loss, depression and, or isolation.”
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