The addictions treatment system in this province is failing to meet the needs of British Columbians. A lack of public treatment beds has forced hundreds of desperate families to turn to costly, unregulated private facilities to try to help their loved ones. This is unacceptable.
Private facilities are the wild west of unregulated care. They lack treatment standards and can charge $20,000 or more per month without government oversight. And if you need trauma counselling? That’s an extra $375 per hour. Family support groups? That’s $6,500 upfront.
Sadly, many people leave these centres only to return weeks later and receive another multi-thousand dollar bill. Without regulation, treatment facilities are allowed to do as they wish with vulnerable people, meaning they often cause more harm than good.
Today in Question Period, I asked Minister Jennifer Whiteside when she will regulate private treatment facilities in British Columbia. In typical BC NDP fashion, she responded by blaming the BC Liberals and patting herself on the back for progress that is clearly insufficient.
We’ve heard firsthand from families of kids who’ve been kicked out of these private centres and driven to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with a garbage bag full of their belongings. We cannot allow people seeking help to be pushed back to the street, where toxic drugs await them.
Public facilities face month-long waitlists that leave families reliant on private care. The BC Greens are calling for an immediate start on work to regulate private treatment centres and prevent further harm to those simply trying to get better.
I think there’s a broad agreement in this chamber on many issues, and one of those is the need to increase access to addiction treatment centres. I’ve heard, and our technical staff have heard, many firsthand accounts from families on how deeply broken our current system is.
Private facilities charge $20,000 per month without any oversight from this government. The private mental health and addictions facilities are completely unregulated, leaving desperate families vulnerable. If you want trauma counseling, it’s an extra $375 an hour. Family support groups — there are payments of up to $6,500 up front.
It’s not fair treatment. Private treatment centres charge thousands of dollars to keep a revolving door open. People depend on coming back twice or three times, four times more, exploiting this government’s failing mental health supports for British Columbians.
My question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. When will she regulate private addictions treatment facilities?
Hon. J. Whiteside:
I thank the member for the question. I think this issue has certainly come to the fore over the last number of years.
We know that, when we formed government in 2017, we did inherit a system in which the recovery house sector had been deregulated by the previous government. That allowed for a proliferation of operators that were functioning under a very loose set of rules and standards.
We have moved to correct that situation. We brought in a more clear set of regulatory standards in 2019 along with a more structured approach to the per diems and increased the per diems so that we could ensure that there is a higher standard of quality and of services that British Columbians can expect from these facilities. And we know that there is more work to do and that work is underway.
I am very grateful for the work of organizations like BCARA, the provincial body that represents recovery houses, who is an important partner in the work that we are doing to ensure that we have appropriate standards across the recovery home sector.
Third Party House Leader, supplemental.
Recognize the environment, the landscape, that existed at the time that this government took office. However, it’s been several years since then, and as we are working to expand access to addictions treatment, it should be that good regulation is what the expansion of those services is built on. That should be the first bit of work. We’ve heard dozens of horror stories from families that have experienced the revolving door that I explained in the first question.
We’ve also heard that public facilities aren’t much better. Those public centres don’t offer trauma counselling. It’s up to the patients and families to seek out and pay for. One mother described the facilities as “warehouses,” because it’s basically the only place for her daughter to lay her head at night — no mental health care, no addictions care, drug dealers around the facilities, allegations of sexual assault in the centres, sexual abuse.
Through you to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, will she agree to undertake an audit of all of our provincial addictions treatment facilities to understand exactly where we stand in this important industry?
Hon. J. Whiteside:
One of the important measures that we have taken with respect to the regulation of the recovery home sector — which is an important part of the treatment and recovery landscape in our Pathway to Hope plan, our ten-year plan for addressing mental health and addictions in the province — is to ensure that we have a robust approach not only to regulation but to enforcement. So we’ve increased the number of officers who are in the health authorities who are responsible for inspecting and enforcing the regulations across that sector. That work is happening at the same time as we are having conversations with that sector about improving the regulatory framework that they’re operating under.
And I do think that, you know, it’s important to reinforce that we have a continuum across which we are working in this area. We have health authorities who are delivering services. We have beds delivered through the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C., which is a very important partner. We have announced a $1 billion investment across all of the work we need to be doing in this sector to do some of the very work that the member has referenced.
I am happy to hear particular examples or particular concerns that the member has to follow up on. But there’s no question: we have made strides in opening hundreds of treatment beds, in doing more work with respect to the regulatory framework and the enforcement of those regulations, increasing counselling services, investing hundreds of millions of dollars across all of those services, and yet, of course, there is more to do. That’s work that we are committed to engaging in.