Talbot House board fires back

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The Cape Breton Post

Published on April 17, 2012

Chris Hayes

SYDNEY — The board of Talbot House has released a lengthy and strongly worded response to what it says was a fundamentally flawed review and report by the provincial Department of Community Services.

The response says the report contained many inaccuracies that were biased and misrepresent the history and operations of Talbot House, a residential centre that treated men with drug and alcohol addictions.

The board calls for an independent review of the report and its findings.

Dr. John Gainer, the chairman of the board, said that independent review could be like a recent review of the operations of Braemore Home by consulting firm Deloitte.

“Someone outside of the Department of Community Services and perhaps someone outside of the board,” he suggested.

Community Services says in its review it received a letter of complaint from a former resident of Talbot House that came through the provincial Department of Health and Wellness, and in response, it and the board of Talbot House agreed Community Services would do the review.

But the board says in its response that it actually expressed puzzlement and concern in a letter to Community Services that a review would be conducted in response to an unsubstantiated complaint that had not been properly investigated.

During the review, Community Services told the board on Feb. 2 it had received additional reports of complaints and allegations against the executive director of Talbot House, including allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour in his relationship with residents, the board said in its response.

Community Services said it wouldn’t investigate the allegations nor provide the board with information about the allegations, but it also advised the board to contact the police, the board said.

The board says that on Feb. 2, it placed the executive director on leave from his duties until the matter could be properly investigated and established an interim plan to continue day-to-day operations of Talbot House.

“Although the information to the board was second-hand allegations and innuendo, the nature and potential seriousness of the allegations, as well as the board’s primary responsibility to the residents of Talbot House, compelled the board to place the executive director on leave from his duties until the matter could be properly investigated,” the board said in its response to the report.

The board informed Cape Breton Regional Police of the allegations on Feb. 13.

The police said late last week they had dropped their investigation and had no basis to pursue any criminal charges.

Roman Catholic priest Rev. Paul Abbass, who was executive director of Talbot House at the time, has confirmed that he was the person being investigated.

Gainer said after Community Services informed the board on Feb. 2 that it had received the reports of complaints and allegations against the executive director of Talbot House, the board requested sufficient information to decide how to proceed with an investigation.

“There was at that point not sufficient information to know if there was any substance to the allegation,” he said. “There was certainly no indication to know what the nature of it was.”

Community Services says in its review that on Feb. 15 it offered additional funding to backfill any necessary staff positions at Talbot House to mitigate any disruption in services for the residents, but the board didn’t act on the offer and discharged the residents on March 6.

But the board says that on March 5, the interim executive director gave two-hours notice of his resignation and it immediately contacted Community Services and the Cape Breton District Health Authority’s Mental Health and Addiction Services, which wasn’t able to provide full-time replacement staff.

The board says after considering its options and the risk to residents, it discharged them.

Gainer said the board had acted on the offer for funding by naming an interim executive and did advertise for another position at Talbot House but the board’s plans were changed by the abrupt resignation of the interim executive director.

“The board at that point made the most responsible decision it could.”

The report raises a number of concerns about human resources issues at Talbot House, saying the executive director and staff don’t have job descriptions and there was no formal orientation for staff.

Community Services also says there are no policies to define how staff receive training funds, one staff person had university courses paid for by Talbot House but there is no transparent decision-making around how training funds are provided, as well as a lack of connection to the performance appraisals and goals of staff.

The board notes in its response that Talbot House staff indicated that in spite of having no job descriptions, they worked well together and assumed duties as required to take care of residents. It shows evidence that the actual work of taking care of residents was getting done, the board says.

The board says the executive director gave regular reports to the board that were considered one type of performance review and also gave regular staff appraisals to the board.

Gainer said a governance board like the one at Talbot House should rely on an executive director to do performance reviews of staff while the board evaluates the executive director.

The board agreed in its response that it should have a policy to deal with staff training funds to ensure fairness. It says the employee who received funds was in a bachelor of social work program, which is clearly aligned with his role at Talbot House.

In its response, the board says it recruited a human resources expert to develop polices for Talbot House, a plan was approved by the board to develop core policies during 2011, and to provide the necessary education, training and resources to implement the first phase of the new policies in 2012.

The board says orientation of staff and personnel files are part of the human resources policy that is being implemented.

Gainer said a one-year implementation period for the human resources policies is a reasonable time and was based on the guidance of the board’s expert.

The board also takes issue with one of the Community Services findings from its interviews with stakeholders, which included Addiction Services, the Cape Breton Regional Hospital detox unit and the Strait Richmond detox unit.

The board notes that Community Services says in its report that stakeholders said Talbot House isn’t seen as part of continuum of addiction services in Cape Breton. But at the time of the review, 10 of 12 residents were also receiving active treatment through the health authority’s mental health and addiction services, the board says. At the time of their discharge, every resident had an assigned clinical therapist with the mental health and addiction services, says the board.

The board also takes issue with a Community Services assertion Talbot House didn’t address men’s needs in a holistic manner involving parenting, family reunification and defining a life beyond addiction. The board and executive director of Talbot House and mental health and addiction services have worked desperately to have closer working relationships and access for residents to the services to take a holistic approach, the board replied.

Gainer said the experience at Talbot House also addressed relationships, social skills, self-esteem, careers.

In the final part of its reply, the board includes a copy of a budget submission form to Community Services.

Community Services said in its report Talbot House didn’t have an annual budget but Gainer said the one-page document was the budget required as part of its service agreement.

George Savoury, executive director of family and community supports for Community Services, said Tuesday the document used by Talbot House was an approved form, but the department also wants to see a budget that is approved by a board and how expenditures are tracked against it on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Savoury said when it comes to financial reporting or human resources, there was a 2008 Community Services review of recovery houses that would provide some standards on what they should have in place. The department would also provide examples if asked, he said.

Savoury said the onus would then be on a board or executive director to come to Community Services for help if it is struggling to come up with the policies.

Gainer said he was encouraged by comments from Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse on Monday indicating she and the department would be willing to meet with the board of Talbot House, and that they are open to future funding for the facility.

The board was told earlier this month the service agreement for Talbot House was terminated and Community Services was not going to renew it but would issue a request for proposals, he said.

The board is working for the long-term viability of Talbot House, he said.

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