Girl abandoned in government scheme

A Broken Hill family says they’ve been left without essential services in the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Since she was two years old, Jezabella Ortega , now ten, has made use of a variety of disability services to manage her cerebral palsy, but moving to the NDIS has left her without an important component.

Her current service provider, Novita, is no longer able to give her the specialist physiotherapy she needs because the NDIS won’t fund travel requirements.

Jezabella’s mother, Jonnah Ortega, said her child, and other children in the city, were missing out on essential services.

“We were hoping for no change in the services delivered with the NDIS rollout but that just hasn’t been the case; a service she used to receive will no longer be available to her,” Ms Ortega said.

“The NDIS plan and package our daughter receives is great, she’s got enough funding to receive the same support she used to get, but the problem is that it doesn’t matter how much money you get in your package, if the services aren’t there, the money means nothing,” she said.

“There is physiotherapy made available by other providers in Broken Hill, but those services are for basic physiotherapy needs, and in cases like what our child needs, she has specialist requirements that now just cannot be provided in Broken Hill.”

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) administers the NDIS. A spokesperson said funding for therapy provider travel was considered in some circumstances, but physiotherapy providers already in the Broken Hill area made it unlikely.

Previously Novita has made use of travel subsidies to bring specialist disability services to the city, but with that subsidy gone it can no longer afford to send someone here.

While Novita has recruited a number of local staff to mitigate this, they have been unable to hire a physiotherapist, according to Manager Regional Service Cathryn Blight.

“We have been successful in recruiting locally-based staff which includes occupational therapy and speech pathology,” Ms Blight said.

“We are actively recruiting for additional roles in Broken Hill, including physiotherapy and psychology.

“Notwithstanding this, if travel to Broken Hill is included in participants’ NDIS plans then this will increase the options available to families, particularly with respect to specialist services.”

Ms Ortega said that until travel subsidies are rolled out in the NDIS she and her family will have to go to Adelaide weekly whenever they have physiotherapy and related requirements.

“It means time off work for us, longer days for our daughter, and the out of pocket costs of travel,” she said.

“There may be other similar service providers closer, but none based in Broken Hill. 

“We have been working with Novita for the past eight years and what’s great about that is they have that history with Jezabella, and they have contact with and collaborate with other rehab specialists to get the maximum benefit out of her procedures, and that’s what we don’t want to lose. Going somewhere else would be like starting all over again.”

The NDIA is looking into new ways to implement travel subsidies following the Independent Pricing Review’s recommendation for more flexible arrangements, according to an NDIS spokesperson.

They said, once implemented, the new arrangements should help providers to maintain the supply of supports to participants in regional and remote areas.

“Regardless of who is to blame, the end result is right now our daughter, and kids like our daughter, no longer receive services they did prior to the NDIS rollout and it’s just not good enough,” Ms Ortega said.

“I’ve spoken to other families in Broken Hill and I know we’re not the only family affected by this. I can only imagine how many people are in situations like this.”