Autism support failed to meet costs

John Ayling
John Ayling
The home support provider that axed an autism support programme at short notice had to be ''hard-nosed'' because of tight finances, Access board chairman John Ayling says.

Mr Ayling was contacted about Access' decision to cut the Windmill Specialised Care holiday programme for autistic and other special needs children in Dunedin, with just four weeks' notice.

Since liaising with affected parents this week, Access would continue its after-school programme through the holiday period, chief executive Graeme Titcombe confirmed this week. Mr Ayling said the organisation had to make a ''hard-nosed'' decision to cut the programme at short notice. Access had been looking at its viability for some time, and he was not sure why parents were told only this week.

Last month, Access closed the Invercargill Windmill centre.

In Dunedin, the centre would continue with reduced services.

''It just comes down to some fundamentals. We cannot afford to continue to run programmes that don't meet the costs associated with running it.''

Access inherited the centres from Dunedin Home Support Services, which it acquired in the 2013 Southern DHB home support changes.

''We didn't purposely go out to seek this programme. It came to us.''

On revenue of $55 million to $60 million a year, Access returned a loss of about $140,000 in the last full financial year.

''We are carrying a number of contracts at the moment that do not return us sufficient to maintain viability, and regrettably this is one that we've uplifted and we've got to be, regrettably, quite hard-nosed about this.''

Lynlee von Ballmoos, a Dunedin mother of two autistic children, said the organisation was being ''hard-nosed, and they're dealing with kids''. She said the centre would also be open between 1pm and 4pm in the school holidays for parents with a particular funding allocation.

Mrs von Ballmoos said following an article in the Otago Daily Times, she had had some of the 35 to 40 families who used the service contact her and they were meeting today.

She had also heard from MP Michael Woodhouse's office who said they would get back to her early next week. Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan, of Wellington, said there was a national shortage of holiday programmes for autistic children. The organisation ran successful holiday programmes in Christchurch and Hamilton, and hoped to offer them nationally. It was considering funding options.

''I'm not suggesting it's going to happen tomorrow.''

Autism funding was changing, and moving towards ''individualised funding'', whereby consumers purchased their own care. At present, there was a lack of available programmes for the families to spend the money on.

''The challenge is going to be setting up these holiday programmes and that is what we're working with Government on now.''

Mr Dougan said he could not comment on the Windmill Centre case specifically.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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