Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Family wins hope of home-care help

By DAVID DAUPHINEE, Free Press Health Reporter
Â*The hard-pressed Leatham family got a surprise and long-sought meeting with Health Minister Tony Clement yesterday after the plight of caring for severely disabled daughter Marlo was again raised in the Ontario legislature.

With mother Mari Leatham and daughters Stacey, Marlo, Minnie and caregiver Amanda Finnie looking on from the gallery, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty pressed Premier Ernie Eves and Clement to help the London family.

"This family is in a desperate position and they are looking to you for help," said McGuinty.

Clement promised to meet right away with the Leathams and, during the session, said a firm decision after 17 months of refusing to reverse cuts to home care for Marlo would be available tomorrow, Mari told The Free Press.

Describing herself as "emotionally fried" by months of fighting for more help, Mari said she was left "cautiously optimistic" after her meeting with Clement.

"I specifically asked if he was going to help us and he said he would see what he could come up with for us. I didn't feel there was a positive yes; on the other hand there wasn't a positive no."

"He apologized for us having to do this to get heard," she said.

Clement was concerned about any move that would set a precedent for breaking the province's hard and fast rule of no more than 60 hours of home care a month for any one person, she said.

The family has been folding under the pressure of caring for Marlo, who is suffering from severe cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia and a developmental delay. She cannot walk, dress or roll over on her own and requires constant attention.

The Leatham's quota of home care hours was chopped last year to 15 hours a week from 54 hours.

Skip Leatham is the main breadwinner with a full-time job, and Mari has back problems from lifting Marlo, who is now too large to be moved by one person.

The care reduction occurred last year after the province altered home-care rules, putting a cap on hours. The issue is further complicated by a pressing need for surgery.

Marlo is to have an operation Thursday on her contracted hamstring muscles, one that can be painful and requires full-length casts on both legs for up to eight weeks, making moving her even more difficult.

"We need those hours returned to get through this," said Mari. "We were really hoping all of this would be taken care of long before surgery. It has been a tough thing to go ahead and do this, knowing there was going to be no support in the home."

While McGuinty applauded the government's hint it would provide additional help for the Leathams, he also had withering criticism.

"They have been denied any assistance time and time again and they had to physically travel to Queen's Park and be present in the gallery to embarrass the government," McGuinty said.