After years of inaction, Sunrise staff remain hopeful

Safety hazards, staff shortages persist at adult training centre

The Sunrise Adult Training Centre moved into a West Bay duplex in 2003. The set-up was intended to be temporary.

Nearly a decade after government commissioned a consultancy report to evaluate the Sunrise Adult Training Centre, the assessment has been made public, revealing that the facility’s needs remain much the same.

The release of the Deloitte report, submitted to government in June 2010, demonstrates how slow progress has been in addressing the urgent demands of the centre, tasked with providing training and support to adults with disabilities.

Problems identified by the study, such as inadequate staffing, overcrowding, limited programme capacity, building safety hazards and transportation limitations, persist at the West Bay facility, according to staff. And as Grand Cayman’s population rapidly grows, some issues, such as a lengthy wait list currently dragging on for three to four years, have become worse with time.

After 16 years of operating out of a retrofitted duplex meant to serve as a temporary location, the centre needs a renewed commitment from government, said Sunrise director Kimberly Voaden.

“It’s high time that government assist us and stand by us and help us to do what they have asked us to do. They have given us an important mandate. This is not a brand-new department,” Voaden said.

“We’ve been here for a long time. They know the needs exist, especially this premier. [Alden McLaughlin] has been a constant advocate for the development of legislation and policy specifically related to people with disabilities in Cayman. So good, continue. We’re at this next step now. Let’s not rest on our laurels.”

In April, Premier McLaughlin did indicate that the centre is on his radar. During his strategic policy statement before the Legislative Assembly, he said plans had been agreed upon to build a new facility. The announcement renewed hope among staff that during the next government budget meetings later this year, the centre will finally get the funding needed to begin work towards a new, purpose-built facility.

“Plans are agreed for a new Sunrise Adult Training Facility and that facility should be fully operational by early 2021,” McLaughlin said in April. “It will include better and more modern equipment and significantly enhance the opportunities available for learning and personal development for the some 150 adults to which the facility will cater.”

The facility is currently limited to serving around 30 clients during its day programme, and has more than 20 clients working in the community, Voaden said. With a new facility and adequate staffing, she sees Sunrise taking in a much larger cohort of adults, who are currently underserved or unable to access Sunrise’s services.

Talks of constructing a new facility are not new to government, however. In 2009, then-Premier McKeeva Bush promised to set aside money to create “a much-needed new permanent home” for Sunrise.

That promise led to the commissioning of the 2010 Deloitte evaluation, which outlined two potential alternatives to the West Bay duplex: a village living approach or a campus living approach, ideally located between George Town and Prospect.

“The village living option allows clients the ability to interact with various support centres located throughout the Cayman Islands in order to participate in a varied number of services and programs offered by the various support centres and coordinated through a main central facility,” the report states.

Rooms in the Sunrise centre are often used for simultaneous purposes, such as vocational training and physical therapy. – Photos: Taneos Ramsay

“The campus living option allows the client the ability to live, work and interact with other clients within one main dedicated area such as a campus setting.”

Since the report’s creation, its findings have been revisited many times. In 2014, McLaughlin announced $8.5 million would be budgeted for the centre and construction was expected to begin in 2016. It was determined more planning was needed, however, including the creation of an outline business case.

Development company Rider Levett Bucknall was expected to complete the business plan and submit it within 90 days, according to a government announcement made in January 2017.

No further announcements were made until this April, when the premier made his annual strategic policy statement.

An outline business case and conceptual drawings have now been submitted, Voaden said, providing an indication that progress may finally be within reach.

“We are looking for the commitment, since the premier was good enough to say yet again that he is committed to giving us our new centre and funding it adequately. I’m really pleased to hear that, because that is what it will take. It’s not just about getting a new building. There is no point in getting a new building and then keeping staffing levels the same. The commitment for long-term growth will need to be there,” Voaden said.

“There is no reason we can’t be a regional centre of excellence that actually draws in people from the rest of the region, and indeed the world, one day that would actually like to come to the centre to learn from us and learn from our guys.”

Currently, the centre must adapt to the facility it has and the limitations that come with it.

“The physical limitations of this building – lack of storage, lack of space, lack of safe space – mean that even though we have great ideas and we want to try things, the space that’s here doesn’t really facilitate the simultaneous execution of programmes,” Voaden said.

The layout of the Sunrise facility creates safety hazards and makes it difficult to move wheelchair-bound clients. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

One of the first limitations of the facility is its location in the northern end of West Bay. The Deloitte report explained that the driving distance to the Powery Road location is about 20 to 30 minutes from George Town.

“This distance decreases the opportunity to take clients into town where they are able to interact with other people and develop social skills … Moreover, transporting clients to medical appointments or work in George Town is time intensive, and the location also limits specialists and therapists, with offices in George Town, time with clients,” the report states.

Voaden said the distance from town is not just an inconvenience but also a danger. She described one instance in which it took an ambulance 40 minutes to arrive to the facility.

“Quite frankly, that can be the difference between life and death,” she said.

The distance also limits the ability of adults in North Side and East End to participate. Sunrise’s bus only goes as far as Northward, alienating potential clients in the eastern reaches of the island. Some families have chosen to keep their loved ones at home as a result, Voaden said.

The next set of issues stem from the building itself. The duplex was built as a home, rather than a school or day facility. This makes necessary tasks, such as moving wheelchair-bound clients, all the more difficult.

“It doesn’t work in terms of support behaviourally or emotionally for clients that are dysregulated. We’re in the process of trying to order some sensory equipment to support guys that really find the proximity of everybody overwhelming and the noise overwhelming. But we’re going to have to find a place to put the sensory room and I’m not exactly sure where. Wherever we do put it, obviously that will carve into the space of whatever it is used for right now,” Voaden said.

The Deloitte report recognises that the small rooms limit the number of clients that can participate in specific programmes and that storage is lacking for supplies and personal belongings.

Much more alarming are the safety hazards the space creates.

“Sunrise consists of a number of small rooms and hallways and in the event of a fire, or a need to evacuate in an emergency, it would be difficult to evacuate quickly and efficiently due to the number of clients who are not independently mobile,” the report states.

One staff member, Daniel John, said his office is located in front of a fire exit, meaning his door must be constantly open, even during sensitive meetings.

“Because of that, confidentiality is compromised. It’s just the extra effort you have to make to ensure that things are away from eyes that don’t need to see them,” he said.

Voaden added that the Fire Service is aware of the hazards at the centre, but has been accommodating to the limitations the facility creates.

“We’ve had to work alongside them, because it’s a situation where either we don’t grow as a centre, we don’t do anything new and it’s just status quo for the rest of our existence here, or we try and we do something new and we then have to make concessions because of not having enough space,” Voaden said.

The centre’s upcoming production of ‘The Lion King’ on 13 June provides a clear example of how difficult it can be to run effective programmes within such a space. Paint, feathers and other production equipment are scattered throughout the building, filling spaces that must also serve other functions for clients.

John points out that schools find a way to put on theatre productions without supplies overwhelming classrooms – but Sunrise is not a school building.

“It’s a house. So it functions probably well as a house,” John said.

Over the years, the duplex has been modified as best as possible to meet the needs of clients. Walls have been torn down to create space for wheelchairs. Ramps have been built to assist with entry and exit from the building. Hand railing has been added along walkways.

But what staff can do is limited, Voaden said.

The lease agreement, for example, prevents them from removing a bush that blocks a fire exit. Only one bathroom is suitable for clients in wheelchairs, and even that facility is lacking – the bathroom does not have a mechanical chair lift, putting caregivers and clients at risk of injury during manual transfers.

And once the centre finally moves out of the building, they will be required to return it to its former state.

That means reconstructing walls and deconstructing ramps, costs Sunrise would be expected to assume.

Despite the facility’s many limitations, Voaden is still hopeful.

She sees the goodwill and community spirit necessary to move Sunrise forward.

“We are uniquely and, in my opinion, especially blessed in that we still retain a large degree of that community spirit that is necessary to affect positive change,” she said.

“We need to be very cognisant of the fact that disability is not something that happens to ‘the other,’ but that in our lifetimes, we will be touched by some level of loss of function or change of function. Disability is a normal part, unfortunately, of ageing in many instances.”

She has observed the generosity and care of the community around the Sunrise centre. Neighbours greet clients during daily walks and when possible, share extra produce, such as mangoes, from their gardens.

Now, Voaden hopes that spirit will finally translate into real action.