Wednesday 6 February 2013

"There's so much duplication"

I was sitting in a waiting room recently, and struck up a conversation with the person sitting beside me. Just small talk at first ... "so, where do you work?"

"Manitoba Mental Health"

I don't recall the exact name of the organization, but it was something like that. Nor do I recall the name of the lady with whom I was speaking, and even if I did I would not tell you because I do not want to get her in trouble. In any case, her answer interested me because I knew nothing of this organization. So I asked her: "What does this organization do?"

"We provide support, counseling, assistance finding employment and that sort of thing. There is so much duplication."


"There is so much duplication. You wouldn't believe how many organizations do the same thing we do."

She just threw that out there, completely unsolicited. "There is so much duplication." That she would think to include that statement in casual conversation about her place of work tells me that it's really a significant factor. Perhaps something that frustrates her or limits her sense of accomplishment at work.

That led to a conversation about why there is so much duplication. The consensus was that there are certain areas that, for reasons of optics, are immune to cutbacks. Like police services at the municipal level, health services at the provincial level are nigh impossible to cut. They are, however, extremely easy to increase. Announcing a new program for mental health services or anything else is good PR. Thus, with new programs being added all the time and no old programs getting cut, duplication arises.

This squares with something I heard from a friend who used to work in the Finance department on Broadway. He said that prior to any budget, proposals would be made to trim one thing or another in the area of health care and they were all systematically rejected. This was something that my friend found frustrating and limited his sense of accomplishment at work.

What is stopping the current NDP administration from cutting some of these programs? In theory, the NDP should be able to trim some things without fear the opposition PCs will criticize them for it. The PCs ought to understand the necessity of cutting duplication, and are not really in a position to criticize modest health care cuts after their last experience in power.

The problem (I think) is that the NDP hammered the PCs relentlessly in previous elections for health care cuts, and it worked too well. This is their biggest weapon: the PCs are the party of cutting health care and the NDP are not. They do not want to lose that advantage. They don't want the PCs to be able to say "you cut health care too" the next time the NDP attacks the PCs in an election campaign.


In a Twitter discussion today, reporter Dan Lett asked pundit Luc Lewandoski to explain "What part of health and education is non-core?" It's not really a fair question. Mental health services are a "core" service, for example, but that doesn't mean it can't safely be trimmed or consolidated without impacting the final product.

Any suggestion that budgets should be trimmed are immediately countered by a government MLA with simplistic arguments about "core" services being cut, as if there is no grey area. The fact is that there is probably a great deal of room for budget trimming, but you need to be familiar with the organizations to know what those are.

I never knew anything about mental health services until recently -- I don't use mental health services because I still cling to the belief that I'm mentally stable and do not require urgent medical attention -- but it seems everybody has some kind of story about how a government agency or department is wasting time or money. All of this knowledge needs to be harnessed, and the government needs to be fearless in attacking these areas of waste and excess if it ever hopes to get its spending under control.


Anonymous said...

I think what was being expressed by the woman was that while that agencies primary criteria/target group for involvement is those who are suffering from some form of mental disability/impairment, while other agencies with similar social service mandates were providing identical services regardless of a mental disability.

While there is little doubt it adds to overhead costs of providing social services, I'm inclined to think it's best left as it is to avoid the possibility of some of the most vulnerable falling through the cracks as too often happens with bureaucrats.

cherenkov said...

What she was saying is that there are multiple agencies providing similar services to the same groups of people.

I think if anything, having multiple agencies increases the odds of somebody falling through the cracks.

Anonymous said...

No, I think Cherenkov's initial assumption was correct. The problem is that this is a quasi-public industry. The funds come from government but many of the groups are not for profit. Many of them do the same thing, most probably beleive they do it better than others, and shutting some down would mean loss of jobs. More problematic it that most of the groups have "champions" with close ties to government.

Non- misery departments (i.e. Health, Child and Family Services, and Justice) have been taking cuts for years while these departments grow and grow.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that unlcear. Health, CFS and Justice are most definitely misery departments.

unclebob said...

One of the more intriguing aspects of social service delivery surrounds the counting of who is a client. Sometimes the same client gets counted by more than one similar agency and they all claim to be the representative of that client and therefore deserving of funding

cherenkov said...

I don't doubt that it happens.

Anonymous said...

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is supposed to prevent duplication by Government of Manitoba departments. It can do nothing about the hundreds on non-profit organizations in Manitoba that purport to provide Health or Welfare services. "Support, counseling, assistance finding employment", etc sounds like you were talking to an employee of a charity.

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