Nova Scotia’s system to provide housing for persons with intellectual disabilities is overburdened and bureaucratic and governments keep promising to fix it. (Emily Kitagawa photos)

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A quest for a home

An institution that’s not a home

(Emily Kitagawa photo)

On a patch of grass and gravel at the end of Freer Lane in Lower Sackville, N.S., sits a low-lying building of glass, steel and concrete. Its surroundings consist of a parking lot, a concrete highway overpass and small garden with a gazebo bounded by a high, black fence. Nothing of interest lies within walking distance of the area wedged between two of Halifax’s major highways in a semi-developed area of the suburbs.

This is the home of the Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre.

Quest houses 24 residents with developmental disabilities complicated by physical, medical, behavioural or mental health issues. It serves as a “hub of intensive support,” said director Laura Arthurs. The idea is that residents come in, are rehabilitated by the facility’s multi-talented clinical team, and then transition to a community-based living option.

“[W]e’re not a housing option,” Arthurs said of Quest’s purpose. Still, she considers the facility a part of the deinstitutionalization movement, which promotes the transfer of those with intellectual disabilities from institutions to home-like settings in the community, so individuals can lead fuller lives.

But with its hospital-like environment that clumps people of different needs together, the pressure of developing program plans for two dozen highly different individuals, and Nova Scotia’s community-based options capacity issues, Quest does become home for some residents, sometimes for years.

Ben James, Richard Rector and Paul Gillis moved into Quest as a result of individual crises soon after the facility moved to its current location at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in 2008. They had faced severe difficulties living at home: they were at times aggressive; their families were overwhelmed. James, 23, and Gillis, 22, have autism, while Rector, 27, suffers from a brain injury caused by an ATV crash.

Rector is under an adult protection order from the courts, giving Quest the responsibility to control his movements and call police should he ever go absent without permission. The order was instituted after a physical confrontation between he and his father.

James’s mother, Nancy Walker, Gillis’s mother, Barbara, and two other families had drafted a proposal for a “small option” home for their four sons, who were all friends, and presented it to the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services. (A small option home is a residence for three people licensed under the Homes for Special Care Act, where staff often live with people with intellectual disabilities in a community setting.) Under the proposal, the parents needed provincial assistance to buy the home but would provide the staff and programming.

“Horrendous, horrific”

Community Services responded that the four boys needed to be evaluated individually; they couldn’t necessarily be lumped into one care situation, despite their familiarity with one another, similar ages and needs. The department also warned the families that only three people were allowed to a small option home. The plan was effectively rejected, and three of the boys ended up at Quest.

Walker remembers the day that James moved in as “horrendous, horrific.” She despised the look of the facility, she said.

Quest is split into two units, separating the high- and low-functioning residents. Those units are further split into wings, eating areas, common rooms, nursing stations and offices.

“Every time I went in there, I thought I would just die, because it just wasn’t what I’d wanted,” Walker said. “I had wanted him in a small option home in a place that looked like home.”

Four years later, James, Rector and Gillis still don’t feel at home.

Quest’s care plans have a strong emphasis on medical care, with each resident assessed by a psychologist, social worker, nurse, physician, occupational therapist and psychiatrist, depending on the situation. Together, the professionals develop an individual rehabilitation plan based on observation, data and best practices in the field – a process that can take years, depending on the complexity of each individual case.

Despite the detail involved in creating these plans, the young men’s mothers don’t believe Quest is doing enough to tailor programming to their sons’ needs.

“They’re too spread thin trying to deal with each and every case that deserves its own attention,” Gillis said.

James moved into Quest when he was 19 and continued to attend school and a summer program run by his mother for three years after that. When he graduated at 21, James suddenly had full days to fill and, according to his mother, Quest was not ready with a program plan. That’s despite the fact that Ian Landry, the Quest social worker, says the facility works closely with schools to ensure a continuation of programming after graduation.

Walker says her son’s Quest-organized programming largely involves short walks, getting groceries, seeing a movie or doing tasks, such as laundry, around the facility. Gillis contends that daily tasks should not count as “programming” and that only three to four hours of her son’s day are truly filled with activities. She wishes her son went outdoors more often. Instead, he spends many days watching TV and playing on his iPod.

“On paper and in meetings, I would be led to believe that Paul gets out every day, but it doesn’t always happen,” Gillis said. “I wanted a schedule. I wanted some kind of something to show me that he’s doing these things.”

Landry says that the number of activities and community inclusion programs depends on each individual. Arthurs adds that Quest’s goal is to increase residents’ self-sufficiency.

James was already involved in the community before he moved to Quest: He works at a recycling centre, goes swimming and bowls. Quest added nothing, says his mother. Walker says his programming has improved since she wrote a letter to the Department of Community Services about the quality of James’s care. She now receives comments from staff about how capable her son is, which bothers her because she says she knew that all along and yet the programming wasn’t allowing her son to flourish.

Unwavering loyalty

“I think the expectancy is so low for most of the individuals in there that they don’t raise the bar,” Gillis said, reflecting Walker’s feelings.

The parents question what they see as Quest’s unwavering loyalty to program plans, assessment, researched best practices and policy, saying it seems to stifle the institution’s flexibility in dealing with the residents.

The structure keeps families from being involved in their children’s rehabilitation, despite Quest’s mandate to “work closely with clients and their families to develop program plans,” they say. The three mothers contend that their suggestions for care, programming and intervention during resident outbursts are ignored by the Quest administration and staff.

Landry says that Quest is open to hearing families’ suggestions but that they cannot always be incorporated into rehabilitation plans when they do not adhere to the clinically prescribed best practice. Clients – the residents of the facility – and staff always attend quarterly team conferences to assess progress and residents, if they are deemed competent, also have full rights to comment on and negotiate their own plans.

That includes medication, a point of contention between some parents and the Quest staff.

The administration of fast-acting sedative drugs is a source of distress for Gillis. She says if her son has had trouble sleeping, is anxious because he has not gone outside or is having difficulty dealing with the noise at Quest, he’s given Lorazepam or a similar drug. She contends that these drugs are doled out as if they were Advil. According to one email from staff to Gillis obtained by the King’s investigative reporting team, Methotrimeprazine and Lorazepam were both given to Paul following an aggressive incident. The email does not explain what caused him to act out. Because her son is over 18 and is no longer Gillis’s dependent, she has no legal say over what drugs he is given.

The documents were obtained by King’s students after the original interview with Quest officials, who could not be reached for further comment.

Paul also has a tremor and goes into spasms during which his body tenses, he stomps with both feet, and his head jerks. Gillis says these issues developed after he was administered drugs, particularly Lithium, used primarily to treat manic depression symptoms, three years ago during a seven-month stay in isolation at the Nova Scotia Hospital, a large psychiatric institution.


Walker learned early in James’s residency that the staff were using medication to calm him. When they wanted to increase his regular doses, she sought legal guardianship of her son. It cost her $6,000 in legal fees but now the staff must funnel such decisions through her.

Otherwise, frontline staff are not supposed to have any contact with parents. Arthurs said that only head nurses are qualified to speak to the “big picture” of an incident or a resident’s care plan.

Gillis emails the head nurse on weekdays – they don’t respond on weekends – and checks in with her son daily by telephone.

When Rector’s mother, Leslie Lowther, calls her son at Quest, she sometimes hears yelling from other residents and thinks such overstimulation is the root of much of Rector’s aggression. The mothers say their sons’ aggression is exacerbated by the environment they’re in: loud residents, boredom, a sense of being trapped.

“There’s not really anything that can so much be done about that except for teaching residents to cope with the differences in people,” said Landry, adding that Quest works with its residents to help them adapt to different settings so that they don’t feel the need to resort to violence. It’s a tactic for preparing them for community-based living, he says.

The facility uses non-aversive behavioural support, Landry adds. This method involves teaching residents how to calm down on their own with the help of therapeutic quiet rooms. All staff are trained in this method.

Persuant to his adult protection order, Quest instituted tight controls on Rector’s access to the outside community, creating a system that allowed for first two hours, then four hours, then eight hours and ultimately unlimited, unescorted excursions. To graduate to each level, he had to get through 30 days without “any incidences of attempted elopement, manipulation, or aggression” while on escorted excursions. Poor behaviour can result in his being dropped a level.

“Like a prison”

“Depending on where Richard is with his ‘program’, time can and does get taken away from going out with his family,” Lowther said in an email. “Richard is free to go out with staff or family only if he has earned the time.”

Speaking generally and not about any specific incident, Arthurs and Landry say that family visits and leaves with residents have not been an issue as far as they are concerned and that they have not received any complaints.

Safety, medical or program plans could impose restrictions on leaving the facility with family, but that ultimately it is the family’s decision, they add.

“This is not something the clients have to earn,” Arthurs said. “The ability to be with your family is what we call ‘noncontingent.’ You always have the right to be with your family. Always.”

Still, visits are complicated by what these mothers refer to as Quest’s “lockdown system.”

After being buzzed into the locked entrance of Quest, visitors must fill in a form detailing who they are, the reasons for their visit and the time. They must then go through locked doors for every wing, common room and private bedroom in the facility. Visitors are allowed in the bedrooms for only 15 minutes. Otherwise, family visits take place in a “Town Square” area, the facility’s multipurpose room, or on request, in a boardroom or family/telephone room that allows more privacy, according to a March 4, 2013, letter to families.

“It’s like a prison,” Gillis said.

Barriers are for safety

Lowther and Walker think the lockdown system is meant not to protect the residents but, rather, to keep prying eyes out. They say Quest staff have been more secretive since the facility was featured on the news in the fall of 2012 when Lowther went public with her disappointment over Quest’s lack of services for people with brain injuries.

Only some residents are allowed swipe cards to access the different parts of the facility. Those under adult protection, such as  Walker and Lowther, are not. No one can get out the front door on their own. Landry and Arthurs say the barriers are for safety and to ensure that no resident has the responsibility of preventing another resident from leaving the building.The question now is: When will James, Rector and Gillis be able to leave for good?

Landry says that Quest does not set timelines for discharge into the community, since each case can vary in its complexities. Some residents have been in and out within a year, while others have lived at Quest for 20 and will likely never leave, according to Arthurs.

“If they claim to be ‘rehabilitation-al,’ sorry it’s not really happening,” Gillis said.

She says she has watched Paul’s independence decline since he’s been at Quest.

Ben James’ mother feels the same way.

“He’s been in there three-and-a-half years and he’s going backwards,” Walker said. “That’s what I’m seeing. He’s going backwards because he didn’t have programming.”

At the beginning of James’s residency, Walker also got herself voted onto Quest’s board of directors in an attempt to try to improve the quality of life for its residents. She left the board after three years out of frustration that her recommendations weren’t being considered.

The board is now “restructuring,” Landry said, as longtime members depart and their spots are filled. As well, some people are on leave.  Although the board has a capacity of 15, Landry would not say how many members are currently on it. Nor would she say how many family members it has, explaining that “we don’t have a quota.”

Now that these three mothers and others are raising their voices over the quality of their children’s care, Walker thinks, the administration is getting “overwhelmed” by the “constant questioning” about how Quest is run.

The three mothers say they aren’t out to shut down Quest, but they do not believe it is suited to the range of disabilities and needs of its current residents.

“I want it to be seen for what it really is. It’s a facility; it’s an institution,” Gillis said.

Walker thinks a high quality of life should be guaranteed. She is not convinced that the administration or the Department of Community Services are investing the resources necessary to make the centre a proper rehabilitation facility.

The Department of Community Services has no plans for a review of Quest. The Department of Health and Wellness, meanwhile, is adding an additional 16 beds in collaboration with Community Services, expanding Quest to a two-floor facility. The second floor will act as a transitional facility, the first of its kind with cross-departmental collaboration in the province.

Lowther and Walker say the renovations have been keep quiet, for the most part, and worry that they will further complicate the mix of residents’ support needs.

Landry refused to comment on the renovation, saying that it is not a part of Quest but rather the facility’s sharing some of its services.

With Nova Scotia capacity issues and a 600-name waiting list for housing transfers, Walker, Lowther and Gillis are pessimistic about a change in environment for their sons any time soon. Gillis is even concerned that a transfer would cause more stress for her son. More than that, she is not sure a better option exists for him at the present.

“How can I enjoy life,” she asked, “when I realize Paul hasn’t got one?”

profile: Leslie Lowther

Leslie Lowther

(Emily Kitagawa photo)

Richard Rector didn’t see the flash of green of the sedan. An instant later, his red ATV was wedged between it and the guardrail on a road in West Jeddore, N.S.

Rector, 18, would spend the next seven months on life support. What initially seemed a routine and innocuous trip to deliver milk to his friend down the road had left him in a coma for months, followed by many more months of rehabilitation.

That was in 2004. Rector now has rods making up for smashed shinbones, plates in his foot, and one leg three inches shorter than the other. His balance is unstable and he suffers from hand tremors. But the most debilitating result of Rector’s crash were his brain injuries. He struggles with short-term memory loss and can be aggressive.

For the first few years after the collision, Rector stayed with his father. But the two disagreed often and the living arrangements didn’t provide structure or consistency: two keys for brain injury recovery, says his mother Leslie Lowther.

He found a new home at Peter’s Place in Bridgewater, one of a handful of small facilities in Nova Scotia geared toward people with brain injuries. But Rector, who was self-sufficient, didn’t fit in with the other residents, who also had physical disabilities and needed extra care.

In 2009, Rector got a spot at the then-newly created Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre.

Rector’s mother said an institution wasn’t what she wanted for her son, but she was nonetheless pleased to have him closer to home.

“It wasn’t something we were ever going to have our son put in: an institution. That’s what it (Quest) is. But unfortunately he’s not able to stay at home.”

“To sum it up, as far as my son is concerned, he’s being warehoused and that’s it,” says Lowther. “Nothing more.”

Lowther said she could never have anticipated how unfortunate a decision it would be to put her son into Quest.

Rector lost interest in everything, says his mother, who fears he’s in a deep depression. Once a hockey player and Montreal Canadiens fan, Rector barely reacted when his mother surprised him with an outing to the Windsor Hockey Heritage Centre.

He’s tried to commit suicide twice since the accident, and Lowther thinks her son, now 27, may even be regressing at Quest. She says she wishes Quest would remove its sign saying ‘rehabilitation’ because she doesn’t believe it’s happening there.

The facility’s social worker, Ian Landry, concedes that brain injury is not part of Quest’s expertise (complex intellectual disabilities). He says that there isn’t much in the way of learning resources, but the facility tries to bring in outside consultants for help.

Every three months, Lowther meets with the staff and the administration in what is called a ‘team conference’ to discuss her son’s progress. Rector, invited to the discussions, has to sit through descriptions of his negative behaviour as part of Quest’s commitment to involving clients in their own care plans. Lowther presented research to the staff indicating that negative reinforcement is detrimental to those with brain injuries, like her son. But the process hasn’t changed.

The family has tried to get their son transferred to other housing, but his aggression makes service providers reluctant to take him. Lowther says her son is caught in a “vicious circle,” where Quest is the primary trigger of Rector’s outbursts, but he can’t leave without being able to control them.

Even if he were to be transferred, there are few places for Rector to go.

Under the Services for Person with Disabilities, people with brain injuries fall under the category of “intellectual developmental disability,” meaning that patients such as Rector are subject to the same hundreds-long wait list as people with intellectual disabilities who are seeking housing. It also means that if he does get placed in a home, Rector would be mixed in with people of drastically different needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome — the list goes on.

It also means if he were to get placed in a home, he’d be mixed in with people of drastically different needs.

Nova Scotia does not currently have a strategy for dealing with victims of brain injuries. Although the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia estimates that about 2,000 people suffer from a brain injury every year, the province has only two homes for special care directed toward them.

In the mid-1990s, the association requested smaller housing options for people with brain injuries. In 1995, the provincial government said it was “working toward initiatives in that matter” and wanted to “make some progress in that area in the next year or two ahead.” Neither the homes nor the program ever came to fruition.

Lowther has written to the ministers of Health and Wellness and Community Services, and to MLAs pleading her son’s case. She’s been featured on local CTV and CBC stations, raising awareness about the lack of services for people with brain injuries.

She’s even contacted a large facility in Ontario that provides rehabilitation and supported living apartments to brain injury victims. But at $240,000 a year, she can’t afford the care.

Lowther would love to see her son in an environment suited to his needs, whether it’s a group home or an apartment with a roommate. A place like home — that’s her only requirement.

“Somewhere where you don’t hear your echo when you walk in,” she says.

profile: wendy bird

Wendy Bird

(Emily Kitagawa photo)

Inside and out, Terrin Ritcey’s home looks like any other modest two-storey house in Halifax. The living room is packed with the tools of hobbies: a knitting loom, a half-finished quilt, a painting set to dry, a Wii controller. On the fireplace mantel stand woodcuts of the words “Dream” and “Believe.” They face photos of the three adults with intellectual disabilities who have gained their independence thanks to this house.

“I can’t imagine them having better lives,” says Wendy Bird, the mother of one of the housemates. Bird’s battle for her daughter to lead a normal life began when the child was still an infant.

Ritcey has a disorder related to cerebral palsy that has caused the right side of her body to be smaller and function abnormally. She’s deaf. She also can’t speak but understands how to communicate.

But these disabilities have never stopped her from being active. Now 30, Ritcey has spent her life skiing, swimming, bowling and running. A Girl Guide through school, she has held a job the past nine years at Prescott Group, a local organization that runs multiple businesses staffed by people with disabilities.

Bird put Ritcey on a wait list for housing when she turned 19. At the same time, she and three other families of adults with intellectual disabilities began discussing the idea of pooling their money to purchase a house and develop their own care program for their children. The families had been running a small summer program for their children and others’ and wanted to find a new way of supporting their independence as they aged.

The group drafted a proposal for the Department of Community Services that included a budget and programming. Over the course of four years, the department ran through the gamut of reasons for rejecting it.

A moratorium on small options homes since the 1990s was the first reason. Bird said she was frustrated the government didn’t have a deadline or a plan to move forward from the freeze. The group bought a house, hoping it might pressure the government to act. Instead, the department took issue with the fact that it was two storeys, saying that was not the norm. Bird countered by researching the number of approved two-storey small options homes.

The government then said the building could only house three people, not four, something Bird calls an “arbitrary number.” And, finally, the department simply said it didn’t have the money to fund the house.

During the negotiations, Community Services offered the families housing options for their children. Ritcey was first given the option of a placement in a couple’s home under the Alternative Family Living program.

“Alternative family? Terrin doesn’t need an alternative family. She has a family, and alternative family is at best a temporary refuge,” says Bird, adding that she doubted her daughter would be able to stay with the same family for the rest of her life.

Ritcey was also offered a small options placement with two severely autistic women as roommates. Bird says the women were incompatible: both were uncommunicative and one had physical outbursts.

Community Services did persuade one of the families to move their child into another small options home, while another’s daughter got ill and had to pull out of the original housing proposal. Down to two families and a house being rented out to meet costs, the group made headway when the issue of the housing crisis for people with intellectual disabilities hit the news. Not only did the news coverage help Bird find a new housemate, she’s also convinced it put pressure on the government to approve their request.

Bird received a letter from the government in early 2007 that funding had been approved. By the end of March that year, they had moved in.

“We scrambled. We wanted to do it before they changed their minds!” Bird jokes.

Terrin, David and Michelle now form a close-knit trio in this nondescript house in Halifax. All three work weekdays and spend their free time with friends. They dance, participate in Special Olympics and see concerts. They disagree like any other roommates, says Bird, but they have also helped one another grow, along with help from two full-time and one part-time caregiver. With a bedroom in the house that staff rotate the use of, the staff has become almost like family, adds Bird. According to Bird, the house is cheaper by a third than similar Regional Residential Services Society small options homes. It hasn’t seen a funding increase since the home’s inception six years ago, she said. The group compensates for its minimal budget by having the parents take their children to various appointments instead of paying caregivers to do it, doing renovations themselves and funding major purchases.

For Bird, it’s worth it in order to be intimately involved in her daughter’s life — she lives a 10-minute walk away — and to be confident in Ritcey’s care. She says that thanks to Ritcey’s independent life, her relationship with her daughter has improved.

“They (the residents) have kind of the freedoms and the life that we have, that you’d want them to have,” says Bird. “For us it could not have worked out better.”


The Department of Community Services does not have a set of staff standards for people who work in facilities housing people with intellectual disabilities.

Instead, it requires seven “core competencies” to be covered in training. They include: fire and life safety; basic principles and practices of personal care; medication; individual program planning; positive principles and practices of non-aversive behaviour change; crisis intervention, and standard first aid.

For the most part, each of these is taught over a half-day.

Carol Ann Brennan, head of the Regional Residential Services Society, doesn’t think Community Services demands enough training. Her organization offers additional courses in areas such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s to cover the gaps in required training.

So does Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre, but it will also hire staff who have not completed the core competencies as long as they do so within three months of beginning work. That means that some staff are working with people with disabilities without even the most basic of training.

When Community Services introduced the seven core competencies, the plan was for Nova Scotia’s community colleges to offer them as part of a course. But the programs had low enrolment and were soon removed from the Halifax region, then Cape Breton and Western Nova Scotia. A pilot program sprung up in two towns last year.

The core competency and additional training ends up falling on the shoulders of service providers, eating up precious resources, time and funding. It’s manageable, says Quest director Laura Arthurs, but only when the centre receives a few new recruits at a time.

A human resource strategy to improve “recruitment, retention, education and training” of residential option staff was recommended in the 2008 SPD Residential Services Report but has not yet been examined, says Services for Persons with Disabilities head Lorna MacPherson.


Small Option Homes

Housing up to three people, these homes are located throughout the province and can accommodate people with varying degrees of support requirements. There are a couple hundred small option homes in Nova Scotia, but few have been created since a moratorium was imposed on this model in the mid-1990s.

Group Homes

On average, group homes house between eight and 10 people, oftentimes with varying needs and requirements. Group homes are best for people who require minimal to moderate care.

Adult Residential Centres

These residency options provide support to people with intellectual disabilities who require heavy support and supervision. Adult Residential Centres offer long-term structured support to enhance residents’ development.

Regional Rehabilitation Centres

These homes may house many people and offer rehabilitation and developmental support. Types of rehabilitation offered at these centres include skill development and behavioural intervention.

Residential Care Facilities

This type of home provides 24-hour support and care for people with intellectual disabilities who require minimal support and supervision and are fairly independent. People housed in these homes do not have major health or behavioural support needs.

Developmental Residences

Developmental residences provide support for those who require specialized care and support. They are designed on a three-level system of Developmental I, II and III, with residents in Developmental I housing requiring the least support and Developmental III housing sheltering those with severe challenges, such as dual diagnoses with mental illness or communication issues.


An institution may be one of the above facilities. “Institution” is often used in reference to a large facility that houses many people of varying disabilities and needs. But it can also refer to a certain approach to care and may be used to label a small home. For many, it has a negative connotation and harkens back to older models of care for people with intellectual disabilities.


Michael Kendrick, a Nova Scotia-born international consultant on housing systems, has advised the Australian, British and New Zealand governments on housing for people with intellectual disabilities. He’s helped modernize systems across the world.

But not in his home province.

In 2001, Kendrick was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to conduct a public review of its community based options. More than a decade later, his report still hasn’t been endorsed by the Nova Scotia government, despite being embraced by the community and advocacy groups he interviewed.

Kendrick found that Nova Scotia’s system had fallen behind others throughout the 1990s “due to a rather severe depletion of its internal or systems infrastructure.”

He recommended that:

The province establish a five-year plan to update the community-based housing system, overseen by an independent panel of citizens;
Money should be redirected to more flexible supports for individuals;
Users of services, and their families, should be able to govern local housing projects;
Distinct cultural, religious and ethnic preferences should be recognized, and users of the system should be provided with independent advocacy and representation; and
There should be independent oversight of the system.

Kendrick argued that to move away from institutions, governments must focus their spending on individualized support — a simple juggling of coins could start the “gradual movement of these resources from standardized service settings to more flexible and individualized ones,” he said. He estimated that individualized options are 10 to 15 per cent cheaper than their institutional counterparts.

In early 2012, the Nova Scotia Deputy Minister of Planning invited Kendrick to participate in a panel on long-term care for seniors, people with disabilities and those with mental health issues. It cut across various departments, including Community Services.

Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse has touted Kendrick’s involvement as an indication of her government’s commitment to improve housing for people with intellectual disabilities, “None of the other governments even let Michael Kendrick step on the doorstep of DCS, let alone bring him around a committee table and allow him to discuss his report that slammed the department,” she said.

Kendrick sees it somewhat differently.

“Like many such exercises, it was not intended to generate specific plans, but rather to stimulate thinking about how various challenges might conceivably be addressed,” he wrote in an email.