Danny Lewis stands for a photos outside Helping Hands in Whitehorse on June 27. The Yukon government’s Department of Health and Social Services has decided not to renew its contract with Helping Hands Adult Daycare, which will have to shut down as a result. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Adult day program closing after Yukon government ends funding

Health officials say it was inefficient to fund three similar services

Whitehorse’s Helping Hands Adult Daycare is shutting down after the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services decided not to renew its contract.

Helping Hands opened in 1997 to offer services for adults with developmental disabilities, particularly those on a lower functional scale. It provides them with activities, events and volunteer work that specifically fits their needs.

According to owner Danny Lewis, the organization regularly renews its funding contract with the Yukon government during the spring — however, it often experiences delays from the government and receive short-term contracts before the renewal of a larger one.

The organization received a temporary contract from April to June this year, but officials were told in May that their contract would not be renewed after June.

“We had no indication that was going to happen,” Lewis said.

“We had signed a lease (on our property), we had staff that we had to inform, and we were wondering what was going to happen with the clients.”

The department has arranged for Helping Hands’ clients to attend two different services for adults with developmental disabilities instead — Teegatha’Oh Zheh and Inclusion Yukon.

In an interview with the News, acting director of communications for Health and Social Services Kendra Black described the decision to end the contract as based on financial efficiency.

“It was determined that funding three different organizations to provide comparable services was not a responsible use of limited funding and resources,” she said.

“This was a decision that balanced client support needs and outcomes, while ensuring that public funds and resources are used responsibly, and it’s part of the department’s overall efforts to ensure our health and social system is sustainable for the years to come.”

Black said that the department notified Helping Hands in February its contract would not be extended past June, and that the temporary contract it received from April to June 2019 was “transitional.”

Lewis disputes this claim. Although he was told that their temporary contract from April to June was transitional, he said the department frequently gives transitional contracts when it’s in the middle of renewing all contracts with different organizations.

“I’ve heard that phrase, like I said, every year,” he said.

He also said the department only told him that it were undergoing a departmental review and were still determining whether the contract would be renewed or not.

“At no time were we told that our clients were going to be transitioned over and that our contract would not be renewed at the end of it.”

Jeanne Reid has a son with partial trisomy 18 who has attended Helping Hands for six years. She’s been very satisfied with the program.

“It’s a small group, and I think that’s important for all clients, but certainly for my son anyway. I think he does better in the small group, and I’ve been very happy with it.”

Reid was “shocked” to hear that Helping Hands is shutting down.

“It was a pretty terrible thing to find out,” she said.

The government arranged for her son to attend Teegatha’Oh Zheh in Helping Hands’ place, but she’s so far been disappointed in the transition process.

“It’s non-existent, basically.”

Not only is she not sure if her son will have enough time to be accustomed to the new environment, but she’s not even sure when his first day there will be.

“We went for a quick sort of hour-long discussion with (Teegatha’Oh Zheh) about a week and a half ago. They said something about maybe the middle of July, but we haven’t heard anything else since then.”

Lewis also expressed concerns about the rushed pace of the transition.

“Most of these clients are used to routine, and changing their routine is very difficult for them. So making sudden changes is hard. So if we were to make that process over a long period of time, say two or three months, it would be much easier for them.”

He’s also concerned that the new programs might be too big with some of his clients with “lower-functioning abilities.”

“Putting them in a group of other clients, for example, could be dangerous, both to other clients and to themselves, just by the nature of their needs. So unless the other organization is fully prepared to handle that and knows all of those situations, that’s difficult to do.”

When asked if the department took into account the needs of individual clients during the transition process, Black reiterated that it would be more efficient to fund two organizations instead of three.

“This was a decision, as I said, that balanced client support needs and outcome while ensuring public funds and resources are used responsibly.”

She expressed confidence in the transition process, adding that a “successful transition” will be finalized on July 1st.

“Our understanding is that the new clients have all new toured their new day program and the transition is going well.”

However, she acknowledged that communications with Helping Hands could have gone smoother.

“We do appreciate the services that Helping Hands has provided and we’re committed to providing support to helping hands employees and clients during the transition. We do regret any misunderstandings that may have arisen over the past several months in our discussion with Helping Hands. We’ll continue to work with the individuals to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible, And making sure that Yukoners have access to high quality programming as the priority of the government.”

The News reached out to Teegatha’Oh Zheh, but officials declined an interview request.

Contact Joshua Azizi at joshua.azizi@yukon-news.com

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