The country's largest disability services provider closed all its bases providing day activities for the intellectually disabled during the level 4 lockdown and reopened less than half at alert level 1, despite continuing to receive funding for them.
The move prompted a barrage of complaints to the Ministry of Social Development [MSD] by users and their families who say they were not consulted.
But IDEA Services, part of the IHC group, said the activities - known as vocational services - were moved into homes where day bases did not reopen and the millions of dollars in funding was required to continue the services remotely.
Documents released by the ministry under the Official Information Act and given to the Herald show that, before the Covid-19 pandemic, 114 day bases were being operated around the country by IDEA Services.
But under alert level 1, only 55 reopened.
Vocational services provide the intellectually disabled with access to stimulating activities, jobs, friends and the community while also providing a lifeline to their families who sometimes get no other respite from caring for their loved one.
IDEA Services began a review of its vocational services provision in September last year and the review was still underway when the lockdown began.
In a joint letter to chief executive Ralph Jones from the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Health on July 27, it said they had received significant feedback from disabled people, their whānau and other providers raising concern about IDEA's lack of communication and consultation about the withdrawal and change of day services at alert level 1.
MSD Māori Communities and Partnerships deputy chief executive Marama Edwards told the Herald the Ministry appreciated it had been a difficult time for service users and their families.
"IDEA Services are currently in the process of reviewing their services, and we acknowledge the closure of some facilities has caused disruption to clients.
"We are also aware of concerns raised by clients and their families suggesting there has been a lack of communication in relation to the changes made to services."
Along with the Ministry of Health, which also funds IDEA Services, MSD reiterated to IDEA Services the importance of consulting clients and their families of any service changes before they were made, and that alternate services be provided if appropriate.
"We also asked that clients and their families are fully informed of any proposed changes before they happen," Edwards said.
"We take any concerns raised by clients and their families seriously and want to ensure clients are receiving the high level of service and support they deserve."
She said any concerns over the closure of facilities had been raised directly with IDEA Services by the ministry.
"We then expect IDEA Services to contact the clients and their families to resolve these issues.
"If appropriate, a list of alternate providers in the client's area can be provided. We encourage anyone with concerns to contact us."
Edwards said funding was maintained to providers during lockdown, even if they were forced to modify or reduce their services due to the impact of Covid-19.
She noted that because IDEA Services was continuing to make vocational day services available to disabled people in more "individualised ways" rather than in group-based settings, it was not in breach of any contracts.
MSD has two five-year contracts with IDEA Services to deliver day services, one for community participation at $28 million this year increasing to $32m in 2024, and the other for very high needs clients at $4.8m this year going up to $5m in four years.
Jones told the Herald that IDEA Services followed government direction to reduce large gatherings of people under Covid-19 restrictions.
"The Government announced a very short timeframe for moving to level 4 lockdown and we, like all other providers, were required to close day bases. We communicated regularly and frequently with individuals and families. We continue to do so.
"Vocational services are continuing to be provided from people's homes or from day bases operating in each area to ensure people are continuing to receive services whether they live in an IDEA Services home, with family or others."
Jones said IDEA Services applied for additional funds following government guidelines over Covid-19, just as other disability, home and community support and aged-care providers did.
The claim, released under the Official Information Act, was for $3.7m.
"The application in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines was to cover extraordinary costs including for the coverage of the more than 450 staff unable to work because they were over 70 or had underlying health conditions as defined by the Ministry of Health that put them at increased risk from Covid-19."
The costs have not been paid. The Ministry of Health said it was in its final negotiations with IDEA Services over the claim.
IHC also raised an emergency appeal to members and supporters during April to help families in lockdown support children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Jones said consultation on the National Services Review into provision of vocational services has just been completed and 83 per cent of respondents said they liked doing activities at home or from home.
Recommendations from the review will go to the IDEA Services board this month. No decisions have been made.