Almost two years after the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the region, there are concerns it is not meeting expectations but for some it has given them a new lease on life.
A drop in the number of NDIS staff in Warrnambool has prompted fears of a staff shortage that would see people with disabilities fall through the cracks in the system.
But while the number of local area coordinators had almost halved - dropping from eight to five since the NDIS was rolled out in the south-west two years ago - Latrobe Community Health Services moved to assure participants and their families.
There are 18.5 LACs to service the 2683 people in the Wimmera South West region on the NDIS - roughly one to every 150 participants - a number Latrobe says is comparable to other regions but refused to give statistics on.
A Warrnambool mum raised concerns about staffing levels in Warrnambool, but Latrobe said the staffing numbers were only higher two years ago to cope with the initial rush to get almost 3000 clients swapped to the NDIS.
A Warrnambool woman with multiple sclerosis, who waited a year to get a mobility scooter through the NDIS, said she feared for those with an intellectual disability trying to navigate a complicated system.
While there are still issues with the NDIS, there are some success stories with two Warrnambool men saying it had given them a new life with a supported independent living house - a first for the region.
Some falling through the cracks
South West Advocacy Association advocate Kim Young has been helping people with their NDIS plans and said people were slipping through the cracks of the system, particularly those with intellectual disabilities.
"For instance, I had a lady in the other week who has been refused the NDIS several times because there's no proof of her disability," she said.
"She's disabled, she has an intellectual disability.
"I was able to get her help. This lady just didn't know.
"If you have a disability and you don't know about it, how do you start? Intellectual disabilities are even harder, those of us that only have a physical disability, we're very lucky by comparison.
"If you're depressed and have a psychological issue, and life's too hard, how do you know if you're eligible for these services?"
Ms Young has multiple sclerosis and has her own NDIS plan.
While she said she was happy with her NDIS plan, it took over a year for her to get the support she needed.
I waited a year to get a scooter, and I'm one of the lucky ones.Kim Young
"I waited a year to get a scooter, and I'm one of the lucky ones," she said.
"Originally when the NDIS came to Warrnambool it was quite difficult. I was on a wait list and there were long delays getting equipment like walkers and scooters.
"Initially it wasn't good, they didn't know what was going on and I didn't know what to ask for.
"You have to have goals with the NDIS, and in my case I wanted to be independent.
"I've been very fortunate in that I've had my car modified so I can now drive my car with my hands.
It is also fitted with a hoist helps her put get the scooter into her car.
"Now I love my plan, but getting there can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle if you don't have the right support," Ms Young said.
She said her background in health helped her understand the NDIS, but others aren't as fortunate.
Pair receive life-changing support
For Warrnambool friends Jeffrey Mordaunt and Michael Smith, the NDIS has been life-changing.
They have just moved into a supported independent living house in Warrnambool - a first for the region.
With the overnight support of carers from Southern Stay they are now able to live independently.
"It's really good, we've got our independence and we learn washing, cooking and cleaning, " Mr Smith said.
"We've got a pool table, Lego, and we watch movies, dance and do shopping."
The men spend their days working and participating in community programs.
"Before living here I was living at a caravan park with my mum, dad and sister," Mr Mordaunt said.
"It's good living on my own."
Southern Stay support worker Darryl Hiscock said the unique living arrangement will pave the way for the future.
"Because of the NDIS this has all been made possible, without the NDIS it wouldn't have happened," Mr Hiscock said.
"It's a new thing and I think it's brilliant. The guys get on really well with each other.
"I think this is a bit of a trial for the region and will pave the way for more arrangements like this."
Southern Stay CEO Paul Lougheed said that while there had been issues and challenges in introducing such a large scheme, the positive aspects of the NDIS were becoming more clear.
"We are starting to see a more diverse workforce, new ways of working, innovations, and people's goals are being identified, communicated and achieved," he said.
Equipment providers hamstrung by paper-heavy processes
Equipment providers finding themselves at the mercy of a paper heavy system say things are slowly on the improve.
Warrnambool's Personal Aids Care Equipment owner manager Janet Adams said wait times have been the biggest issue with the scheme.
"A provider might get approvals for a piece of equipment, but we won't get the information sent to us until up to a month," Ms Adams said.
"There's a bit of going around in circles sometimes, and at times we can wait up to eight weeks to get paid.
"I've got at least 160 to 170 different names under the NDIS clients in our system, and we're not the only provider in town.
"Sometimes I've already handed out the equipment because I know the person needs it, but then I go to do the claim and there are no funds available and we end up carrying that.
"The processes are still quite convoluted but it's just a matter of time until things get ironed out. It's the same with every new thing."
The processes are still quite convoluted but it's just a matter of time until things get ironed out.Janet Adams, PACE
She said the large amount of paperwork can slow down the system.
"The less steps involved the quicker it becomes for people, as long as they still have enough people on the higher levels doing the approving so it doesn't get clogged up with paperwork," she said.
She said NDIS participants often wait as long as six months before they get the approval to purchase equipment.
"Everything takes a long time to fine tune and get right, things are improving but I think it's got a long way to go," she said.
"It's going to take some time to get it right."
Regional services struggle to recruit: Tehan
A Warrnambool mother with a disabled son, who wished to remain anonymous for fear her son's NDIS plan would be compromised, is concerned by the reduction in the number of local area coordinators.
"They just can't get staff, and it's the same in other offices in the south-west," she said.
"It's a difficult area to work in, and it's having a huge impact on families. For example, there's a huge demand here for speech pathology, but the therapists are not in the area.
"The question here is: is there a concern with attracting professionals to rural areas to work?"
She said changes that came in with the roll out of the NDIS have resulted in difficulty accessing support.
"They used to have a case manager, a worker that would coordinate all the services and programs, such as physio and day outings. Families would always have someone with them," she said.
"Now they have been reduced as a result of the NDIS and replaced with LACs, who simply do not have the time to respond to the almost 3000 clients in the area.
"How are they supposed to cater for all these people? Families do not have the support available, and LACs are not available. It's a very real issue."
Latrobe Community Health's Dominic McInerney said the reduction in staff at Warrnambool and region-wide was comparable with other areas, but refused to provide the statistics.
"We used to have 18 staff at the Warrnambool office, but in terms of local area coordinators the most we've had is eight, now we have four LACs and one senior LAC," he said.
"When we had 18 staff that included the early childhood team which run the NDIS for children aged seven and under. They have now moved into another site.
"There was an early peak in the number of people wanting to come onto the NDIS and we staffed accordingly.
"We are comfortable with the workforce in place."
Mr McInerney said attracting professionals to regional areas to work can be difficult.
Recruiting highly skilled health professionals in regional areas has always been a challenge for everyone in the health sector.Dominic McInerney, Latrobe Community Health
"Recruiting highly skilled health professionals in regional areas has always been a challenge for everyone in the health sector, but within that constraint we have done well," he said.
"For example we recently recruited for three skilled positions in and around Warrnambool and had more than 60 applicants, which is a very strong response."
Education Minister Dan Tehan, who formerly oversaw the NDIS as Minister for Social Services, said there has long been issues with recruiting in regional areas.
"One of the issues which was always identified was workforce need and that's something we are continuing to work on as a government," he said.
Mr Tehan said the government is keeping an eye on staffing levels.
"When it comes to exact ratios obviously this is something that continues to be monitored," he said.
"Often they can largely dependent on the nature of the region."
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