The Casket (Antigonish, NS)
Posted on April 14, 2012 by Corey LeBlanc [email protected] [I think the date of 14 April is inaccurate, but that is the date posted on the website]
[Editor’s note – Tuesday, April 17: Father Paul Abbass released the following statement this afternoon:
At the end of last week I was informed by the Cape Breton Regional Police Service that they had concluded their investigation and will not be laying any criminal charges.
Obviously I was pleased and relieved that this matter has been resolved.
This has been an intensely difficult and challenging period in my life; however, it has also been a time of tremendous support and care offered by family, friends, parishioners, Bishop Dunn, the Priests of the Diocese, the Talbot House Community and many others. For this I will remain always grateful and humbled, I would want each person who offered their support, care, and prayers to know that this is what carries me still today.
Obviously, I remain saddened by the closure of Talbot House and recognize that so many others have suffered due to this closure. I believe in the work and community of Talbot House and know it had a profound impact on those who lived, worked and visited our community.
I too need to express my disappointment with the manner of the Review conducted by the Department of Community Services.
I look forward to returning to ministry; I also recognize that I cannot be effective in ministry unless I give myself time for some healing; and so I am taking some personal time for this recovery.
I appreciate the efforts of the Board and the public and all who are concerned about the future of Talbot House and hope that in a spirit of fairness and goodness we may see this important facility re-opened to serve the needs of those who struggle with their addictions.
I know that everyone will understand my need for reflection and healing and will also understand that I will not be participating in any media interviews at this time.
Once again thanks to everyone who were so generous and compassionate.]
The Diocese of Antigonish has announced Father Paul Abbass can return to his duties as spokesperson and vicar general, as well as his parish responsibilities.
Abbass has been on leave from those diocesan duties and his position as executive director of Talbot House, a live-in addictions and recovery centre in Frenchvale, Cape Breton, since early February, while an investigation into an unspecified complaint against him was taking place.
“He is welcome back to resume all of his former duties,” Father Donald MacGillivray, Diocese of Antigonish spokesperson, said.
Over the weekend, the Cape Breton Regional Police Service (CBRPS) confirmed that they found no basis to pursue criminal charges regarding a complaint against an unidentified Talbot House employee.
“We have been exploring that information to determine whether or not there was anything criminal for police to investigate,” CBRPS spokeswoman Desiree Vassallo said in an email.
Based on the information received and gathered since then, she said police “found no basis to pursue any criminal charges at this point.”
“We will not be conducting any further investigation into this matter until, and if, any new information should come forward,” Vassallo said.
In an email to the Canadian Press, Abbass confirmed that he was the person being investigated by police.
Abbass did not respond to a request for comment from the Casket.
MacGillivray said Abbass has not indicated if he will return to his diocesan duties.
Bishop Brian Dunn said Abbass is “indeed welcome to return to his parish and diocesan responsibilities”
“However, from a personal point of view, the ordeal of these past few months has weighed heavily on Father Paul and he has expressed the need for some personal time,” he said in an email.
“He is most appreciative of the support that people have provided him over the past few months,” Dunn added.
In early February, the Talbot House board announced that Abbass, its executive director for more than 17 years, was asked to take a leave of absence during the investigation of a complaint.
“It was a day of some measured relief, if you will – an opportunity for the board then to be able to speak publicly because, until the police investigation was completed, we necessarily had to remain silent on this,” Dr. John Gainer, Talbot House board of directors’ chair, said.
“But, it was certainly not a day of joy or celebration,” he added.
Gainer said the board considers the matter “absolutely closed in terms of formalities and procedure.”
“However, the most important part of all this is the effect of the allegation and innuendo, and alleged complaints, on the person of Father Paul Abbass – his career, his family and his parishioners … the residents and staff of Talbot House, the reputation of Talbot House and the broader community.
“This has resulted in immeasurable and catastrophic outcomes,” he added.
Gainer said Abbass would be welcomed back to his position with the home, if it re-opens.
“Absolutely, there would be no question. The matter is resolved. He is absolutely vindicated and from the position of the board he returns to his full function and duties as executive director of Talbot House.”
Gainer noted the “wrinkle in that,” is the operation of the home has been suspended.
On March 7, the Talbot House board announced the facility had closed indefinitely, citing the resignation of a newly-hired interim director “rendered the provisional plan unsustainable” for continuing operation of the facility.
Less than one month later, the facility’s board received word Community Services would not renew its service agreement.
Gainer said two representatives of the provincial department travelled to Cape Breton April 4 to hand over one copy of the operational review to the board. At that time, they also informed them about the end to the service agreement, which he said “effectively cutting off the bulk of our funding.”
Talbot House received approximately 90 percent of its budget, or about $500,000 annually, from that provincial department.
“We had not been given any advanced indication of either problems or accolades, so we had no knowledge of what the report contained,” Gainer said, describing the decision as a “surprise and disappointment.”
Gainer said the board concedes it failed to meet all standards for recovery houses set out by the Department of Community Services.
“The board is very clear that Talbot House was not in full compliance with the standards, but there is ample evidence that the board was working responsibly to establish compliance. There is clearly a difference of opinion here,” he said.
Gainer noted that the copy of the report the board received contained two conclusions.
“One that the Talbot House was not in compliance with the majority of standards for recovery houses and the second is that there was no evidence that the board had been actively overseeing the operation of Talbot House,” he said.
Gainer said the board “rejects those conclusions.”
The Talbot House board sent the department a written “response” to the report Monday morning.
It indicates that in correspondence dated Dec. 19, 2011, the board expressed “puzzlement and concern” that a formal organizational review would take place in response to a complaint that “had not yet been properly investigated and remained fully unsubstantiated.”
The board’s response says it expressed concerns that an organizational review could not properly address the allegations and complaints, requesting Community Services conduct a fully independent review or provide the board with “sufficient information to allow for a proper and timely investigation based on principles of natural justice and accepted human resource standards.”
“To date, the board has never received a formal complaint against the executive director,” the response, which is signed by Gainer, says.
The submission says the March closure of the facility was not considered to be permanent.
“… But rather a temporary measure that would allow for the completion of the review, consideration of the recommendations and joint planning with the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to establish appropriate staffing and renew full programming.”
The board challenges the correctness of some of the review’s findings.
It says annual budgets were prepared at the beginning of each fiscal year.
Under human resources policy, the board says it recruited and hired someone with “extensive HR and organizational experience” to develop policies in January 2011.
The board’s submission, which is dated April 16 (Monday), offers recommendations, including delaying posting the review report on the Community Services’ website “until the inaccuracies and conclusions of the report can be reviewed and revised,” or posting the board’s response on the site as well.
The board recommends an independent review of the report, which should evaluate the procedural aspects of the process and rationale of initiating the review based on an allegation that had not been investigated or substantiated.
The Talbot House board also calls for the re-establishment of the service agreement with Community Services providing “adequate financial and consultative support, and determine realistic timelines and priorities for compliance to established standards.”
Monday, Community Services department released the confidential report. There had been several Freedom of Information requests from media for its release.
The report said the review was initiated in 2011 in response to Community Services receiving a letter of complaint from a former Talbot House resident through the Department of Health and Wellness.
The report outlines several areas in which the home did not comply with provincial standards.
The Talbot House board did not prepare or approve annual budgets according to the report.
Also, the review says the board had not conducted an annual general meeting in 13 years.
There were no job descriptions for staff, including the executive director.
As part of the review, stakeholders from Addiction Services, Cape Breton Regional Hospital and Strait Richmond Hospital detoxification facilities were interviewed.
Eight agencies received complaints from clients regarding the behaviour of Abbass as executive director. Although stakeholders indicated they encouraged clients to make formal complaints, it appears none were made to the Talbot House board.
“Stakeholders who received complaints from residents felt compelled to keep the information confidential given their therapeutic relationship with clients. However, they passed these complaints along to their managers. Two managers advised their respective directors of the complaints,” the report reads.
As a result of these complaints, some unnamed agencies either refused to make referrals to Talbot House or had clients call make self referrals.
In a three-page “suggestions” section of the report, it says the board must develop a plan to improve relationships with those agencies, along with create policies and guidelines governing the appropriate relationship between staff, residents and volunteers.
There are also suggestions made for improvement of financial management.
The report also indicates that the department offered extra money for staffing at Talbot House so residents wouldn’t be disrupted Feb. 15, but the board turned down the offer.
The board told the department March 6 that it would discharge all residents.
“We are certainly looking at all of our options and that also includes Talbot House,” George Savoury, executive director for family and community supports, said Tuesday morning, noting there are concerns that were identified in terms of compliance with standards for such facilities.
“However, if those were addressed, we would certainly be open to having further discussions with Talbot House.”
Savoury said the board said that they were not in compliance with a number of standards, but indicated planning was underway to address them.
“However, when we go in and assess an organization, we can only assess whether they are in fact compliant.
“We try to be very and balanced in our reviews.”
Community services will be looking for proposals to establish a recovery house in Cape Breton, with the Talbot House board having permission to submit a proposal.