Talbot House executive director takes leave of absence after complaint

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The Cape Breton Post

16 February 2012

Ken MacLeod

Talbot House in Frenchvale. Steve Wadden – Cape Breton Post

FRENCHVALE — The executive director of a Cape Breton addiction centre has taken a leave of absence while regional police and the Department of Community Services look into a complaint made against him.

Rev. Paul Abbass has been the executive director of Talbot House, which treats men in their 20s and 30s who have a history of multiple addictions, for the past 17 years.

Abbass did not reply to requests Thursday for comment.

According to Dr. John Gainer, chair of the Talbot House board of directors, the Department of Community Services had undertaken an organizational review of Talbot House in December and, through the course of their review, encountered the complaint against Abbass and brought it to the board Feb. 2. Gainer would not comment on the details of the complaint.

“In response to that, the board made the decision that we would start the process of an investigative review,” said Gainer, “and until such time as that review was complete, that we would request that Fr. Abbass would step aside from his day-to-day activities at Talbot House in the role of executive director.”

That same night, said Gainer, he and four other board members went to see Abbass at his home in Frenchvale and told him what they had learned from the Department of Community Services before asking him to take a leave of absence.

“That was very difficult for him to hear, but he accepted the decision of the board and the rationale for it.”

Abbass left Frenchvale the following day, said Gainer, and the board immediately assigned his duties to two long-term staff members at Talbot House. With the significant changes that have taken place at Talbot House, the board also decided to reach out to the Cape Breton District Health Authority for help.

“There was some clinical concern there, so with the support of the district health authority’s mental health and addiction services, we established an agreement that we would provide an expedited access to any emergency care we might need. They are now in a position to provide us with ongoing clinical expertise and support, where they would offer support for our existing staff at Talbot House.”

In the meantime, Gainer said everyone involved would like to see the issue resolved “as soon as possible.”

“Just the human cost to this, to Fr. Abbass, to the staff members and, more importantly, to the residents of Talbot House — there’s so much anxiety, so much conjecture, so much uncertainty. There’s just tremendous pressures coming to bear on everyone.”

Cape Breton Regional Police Services spokesperson Desiree Vassallo confirmed a complaint about a Talbot House employee had been brought to police this week.

“Talbot House has raised some concerns with police about one of their employees,” she said, “but we are not able to name who that person is.”

She added that the matter is not an official police investigation at this time.

“We are basically exploring that information to see if there are any grounds for a criminal investigation.”

Community Services spokesperson Amanda Pelham said the December organizational review of the operations at Talbot House was prompted by “allegations that were brought to our attention,” but would not comment further on the allegations. She did say the complaint against Abbass came to light during the organizational review.

“Basically, as soon as we became aware of the allegations, we responded and department staff are still investigating,” she said, adding that while no timeline has been set, the review is “expected to be completed in the coming weeks.”

As the main funder for Talbot House, said Pelham, Community Services can conduct a review of Talbot House whenever it feels it is necessary.

“So it’s actually broader than a complaint,” she said, “but the complaint will be covered as part of the review.

“We’re not reviewing other institutions at the moment, so it’s fair to say the review is going to look into the complaint.”

Talbot House receives approximately $420,000 annually from the provincial Department of Community Services. Right now, 14 men are undergoing treatment for their addictions at Talbot House.

Pending the outcome of the investigation and review, Abbass will also be on leave from all diocesan and parish responsibilities with the Diocese of Antigonish. Bishop Brian Dunn has appointed Fr. Angus MacDougall to act as interim vicar general. Fr. Agit Kerketta will oversee the pastoral care for the Frenchvale, Christmas Island, Iona, Boisdale and Baddeck parishes where Abbass is currently associate pastor.

kmacleod@cbpost.com

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