The Halifax Chronicle Herald
June 6, 2012 – 4:12am
Talbot House closure cited as need for change
The demise of a Cape Breton recovery house will lead to more reviews of similar facilities, a senior Community Services Department bureaucrat said Tuesday.
George Savoury, executive director of family and community supports, revealed the plan after he and two other senior officials answered questions from a legislature committee about the March closure of Talbot House, a men’s addictions recovery centre in Frenchvale.
Opposition critics said the department should have kept closer tabs on Talbot House over the last several years, and a lack of oversight contributed to issues that led to the facility closing.
Community Services officials did an operational review of Talbot House this past winter after seeing a letter with complaints by a former resident.
The review found the centre’s board and executive director didn’t follow department standards in areas of administration, operations and residents’ files. The board acknowledged some findings and disputed others.
Liberal community services critic Kelly Regan said the officials should have done more work with the board since establishing strategy and standards for the five recovery houses in the province in 2008.
“These folks dropped the ball,” Regan said of the department. “Taxpayers had no idea whether their money was being spent effectively.”
Talbot House got about $400,000 a year from the province. The other four funded recovery houses, all located in Halifax Regional Municipality, received between $174,000 and $265,000.
Savoury told the all-party community services committee that a Talbot House representative was part of the working group that developed the standards so the Talbot House board would have been aware of the expectations.
Savoury also said it’s not unusual for organizations to ask the department for advice on governance and developing policies, but the Talbot House board did not. “There’s come responsibility on that organization to make the request,” he said.
John Gainer, the former chairman of the Talbot House board, could not be reached for comment.
The committee also heard that the other four recovery houses meet or exceed department standards. But as a result of the Talbot House eperience the department will be doing “more frequent reviews, Savoury said.
He said the department was also “given indication that (Talbot House) were more compliant than they were.”
Progressive Conservative MLA Chris d’Entremont wondered why the department was blaming the Talbot House board for the problems there but still needed to learn from the situation.
The Tories have criticized the department for putting the operational review online and accused Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse of violating the protection of privacy law.
Savoury stood by the decision to post the report and the department’s review. He said the department had offered to work with the board on improvements, offered extra money to fill staff positions and keep the centre going.
The board announced in March that Talbot House, which opened in 1959, would close. There were 10 residents at the time.
The province covered the cost of five residents going to Crosbie House in New Minas.
A provincial news release issued while the meeting was undwerway said there will be a request for proposals issued by the end of June for a recovery house in Cape Breton.
Savoury said the Talbot House board is free to apply.
Department not responsible for Talbot House closure: bureaucrat
The Cape Breton Post
Published on June 5, 2012
HALIFAX — A senior bureaucrat with the Department of Community Services said his department is not responsible for Talbot House closing.
George Savoury, the executive director of family and community support with the Department of Community Services said Tuesday that despite this lack of culpability, the Department of Community Services will change the way it provides oversight to recovery houses such as Talbot House.
He said that instead of reviews being done on an “as-needed basis,” they would be done regularly.
Savoury was one of three senior staff from the Department of Community Services who appeared before the legislature’s standing committee on community services Tuesday. He said he was surprised that Talbot House closed and that was not the goal of the department’s review, which concluded it was not meeting Department of Community Services standards.
“It was really the board’s decision,” Savoury said of the move to close the Frenchvale recovery house. “We were surprised that the board informed us that that was the course it was going to follow.”
The Department of Community Services did an organizational review of Talbot House after the Department of Health and Wellness received a complaint letter from a former client.
“The board was very much involved in the development of the standards, they knew the standards,” Savoury said. “Based on the information that we had from them, we felt that they were more compliant than they were.”
Liberal community services critic Kelly Regan said the department should have made a better effort to ensure that Talbot House was meeting recovery house standards that were established in 2008 instead of waiting until a complaint came in.
“The board was taking steps, maybe not as quickly as the Department of Community Services would have liked, but the board was taking steps to deal with some of the issues,” said Regan, who was also disappointed the department didn’t provide help in March when the Talbot House board asked for it.
Although the Talbot House board of directors did not agree an organizational review was necessary, it co-operated with the Department of Community Services. During the review, the Department of Community Services heard complaints about Rev. Paul Abbass, the former executive director. This led to a police investigation, but there were no charges. Despite this, the organizational review was published on the Department of Community Services website in full, prompting critics to suggest the report should have been redacted.
Victoria-The Lakes MLA Keith Bain asked Savoury why nothing was done to filter out any information what would identify Abbass and link him with the allegations.
Savoury said the department’s staff that made the decision are “professional and qualified” and didn’t second-guess them.
Bain asked Marika Lathem, director of family and youth services and the principal author of the organizational review if the department was opposed to a Catholic priest operating Talbot House.
Lathem said that it did not enter her mind.
Savoury also added that many recovery houses are faith-based and the department doesn’t discriminate based on religious denomination.
“We just want them to be supportive, caring environments,” Savoury said.
The department announced Tuesday it was putting out a request for proposals for a new facility, with support from the Department of Health and Wellness.
Savoury said that the Talbot House board of directors would be allowed to submit a proposal.