Where is the Oversight?

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about the private addiction treatment system in British Columbia recently. A number of national news stories, on a number of different subjects, have drawn the attention of Canadians to this nearly unknown and poorly understood part of healthcare. The most notable story right now involves a treatment network in Alberta and Ontario whose owner was charged with fraud after widespread complaints.

In that case, which has yet to be tried, there are allegations of falsified medical credentials, unsafe facilities, and the use of predatory financial practices. A couple of other stories have revolved around facilities keeping program fees, even if they discharge someone, in the tens of thousands of dollars. Stories like this over the years have made that practice more and more rare in private facilities across the country. Treatment centres hate bad publicity.

There have been other stories with complaints about specific treatment centers not providing the care they promised or should have promised. Some of those stories involve our facility, Sunshine Coast Health Centre. Reading those stories about our own facility is definitely frustrating. People can make the most outrageous claims and skip the most important details when talking about a treatment centre, but we can’t respond to them and set the record straight.

Treatment centres in Canada are not allowed to tell their side of the story if it means revealing an individual’s private information, and that includes whether the individual was even at a facility. If someone has a complaint and someone else asks about it, our only legal response can be, “We can neither confirm or deny that any person is, or has ever been, a patient here”. When this is all you can say and you don’t defend yourself, you look guilty. At least it feels that way to me.

Luckily, today I read something in an article about private treatment that I can loudly defend against. It has been claimed that the addiction treatment field in BC (and possibly all of Canada) is an unregulated industry where any person, despite having no experience or credentials, can open a treatment centre. This is completely false if you intend to open a facility in BC where there is extremely strict provincial licensing for all facilities whether public, non-profit, or private.

Unlike many provinces, for decades BC has insisted that all facilities serving vulnerable populations be licensed and regulated so that patients and residents can be as safe and well cared for as is possible. If you want to open a facility, you must apply and go through extensive background checks and interviews. Your facility must also be perfectly ready to go with all staff hired in advance of the first patient stepping through the doors. If you open a facility without a license, you can expect to be shut down by force.

All this oversight is due to BC’s Community Care and Assisted Living Act and there are regulations as a part of this law that all facilities must fully meet or risk not being able to operate. These regulations are enforced by what is called a “Community Care Licensing Officer”. Every town in BC is served by this employee of their local health authority and their job is to review and oversee new applications and inspect every group home, residential clinic, long-term care and assisted living facility in that area.  These inspecting officers show up both regularly and randomly and all inspections are posted online through each health authority’s website. If they find a problem, they set a deadline for fixing it that supports the severity of the infraction, and they come back and check to make sure it got done.

The Community Care and Assisted Living Regulations used by these Licensing Officers are comprehensive and extremely detailed. If you’re interested, you can find them here. The short version is that BC facilities providing addiction treatment services are regulated in nearly every aspect including:

  •      Bedroom size
  •      Lounge and recreation areas
  •      Fire detection and emergency equipment
  •      Emergency plans
  •      Staffing plans
  •      Staff training
  •      Management procedures
  •      Family support
  •      Nutrition
  •      Record keeping
  •      Medication storage and distribution
  •      Admission and discharge procedures
  •      Complaint procedures
  •      Reporting procedures
  •      Client care plans
  •      Use of punishment

These regulations are annually expanded and we are expected to immediately bring ourselves into compliance with new rules, no exceptions. Here’s our last major inspection if people want to see it.

I think BC should be proud of the high-quality licensing framework it has enforced all these years. Our company culture requires we exceed the high standards set for us in that regulation. In addition, we also work very hard to keep ourselves in 100% compliance with our accrediting agency, Accreditation Canada.

The requirements of accreditation are extremely detailed and compliance also means a commitment to constant improvements and training. This combined licensing and accreditation means that no aspect of our work is left uninspected or without oversight. Every single person at Sunshine Coast Health Centre has responsibilities in making sure all regulations and standards are met to the best of our ability at all times.

As of 2016, we have treated over 2500 individuals in our facility and our alumni are everywhere across British Columbia and Canada leading full and healthy lives. I think we do a good job, but, sadly, things still go wrong even if we are doing everything we are expected to do in order to prevent critical incidents. Treating people with addiction can be incredibly tough work and our clients can be unpredictable. We know the risk and we make sure that we are as ready as possible for what comes our way and that we have the procedures, education, and training necessary to help effectively.

I have to hope that people who see any story they hear or read about Sunshine Coast Health Centre will judge it against our long-term, impeccable reputation as a high-quality service provider. Please know that we remain as committed as ever to being the best addiction treatment centre possible and that we continue to take steps every day that will improve our clients’ experiences and, ultimately, their outcomes.

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