Winnipeg Free Press article: Bad News for Manitoba’s 14,000 Wheel Chair Users

Following is the text of an September 8, 2023 Free Press article by reporter Katie May:

Repair technician positions will remain unfilled at Manitoba’s publicly funded wheelchair program after the province rejected a request to increase the budget.

The hiring freeze means repairs for more than 850 power and manual wheelchairs won’t be completed this fiscal year and backlogs will be compounded for years to come, Manitoba Possible chief executive officer Lindsey Cooke said Friday.

Two of its seven technician jobs were vacated via retirement and will have to stay vacant as Manitoba Possible avoids layoffs but can’t afford to continue to run a deficit, Cooke said. (The agency also had a longtime volunteer working on wheelchair maintenance in Brandon for the past 12 years; he retired in July.)

The non-profit runs Manitoba’s wheelchair program and is responsible for supplying and maintaining approximately 14,000 wheelchairs to users across the province.

It was notified within the past two weeks its most recent request for a budget increase was not approved, Cooke said. The wheelchair program hasn’t had a funding increase since 2011.

“We were hopeful that they would understand the critical position we’re in,” Cooke said. Instead, she predicted a “serious reduction” in the agency’s ability to serve its clients and even longer wait times for power wheelchairs.

Manitoba Possible asked for funding for five additional technicians, which would have restored maintenance service to rural Manitoba. Currently, rural residents have to have their wheelchairs repaired in Winnipeg.

The request won’t be reconsidered until the next fiscal year in the spring, at the earliest.

Cooke expressed concern the program is unable to fulfil its obligation to provide basic mobility to its users.

“We don’t believe the wait times they currently experience honour their human rights,” she said.

The Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba is considering pursuing a human rights complaint over the state of wheelchair services in Manitoba, executive director David Kron said.

Some association members have been waiting months for new wheelchairs, long past the point of safety, he said.

Kron expressed frustration about the ongoing lack of a budget increase: “I shouldn’t have to advocate so hard for basic services within Manitoba.”

New power wheelchair setups are also expected to be further delayed, with a backlog of at least 125 this year that could double in future years, Manitoba Possible said.

“At this point, the solution is reasonable and sustainable funding of that publicly funded program,” Cooke said.

This summer, the Free Press reported on the three-years-and-counting wait for a new wheelchair Winnipeg resident Tom Landy experienced after his new mobility device had been approved.

He’s still waiting.

On Friday, Landy said his next meeting about the issue is Sept. 18. In the meantime, his old wheelchair has been sent for repairs again.

Manitoba should be “ashamed” additional funding for wheelchair services hasn’t been approved, he added.

Comment from provincial authorities was not immediately available Friday.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew took to social media to denounce the decision.

“I’ll commit right now that an NDP government will fund these wheelchair repair technician jobs,” he wrote.

Read the article as carried in the Winnipeg Free Press at: