Former employees and clients of Addiction Recovery Network are calling on the Ontario government to regulate private addiction treatment centres after raising concerns about the quality of services provided to clients by the Greater Toronto Area company.
Both the parent of a client, and a former addictions counsellor told CBC News they didn’t think that clients were receiving the treatment they paid for because of a high turnover in employees who quit after not getting paid.
Addiction Recovery Network (ARN) owes former employees nearly $97,000 in unpaid wages, according to the Ministry of Labour.
The company’s owner John Haines says he intends to pay the wages, and denies there are any problems with the treatment provided by his facilities.
Debbie Beaton says her son went through four different addiction counsellors over the course of the 20 days he spent in a six-week treatment program at the company’s Brampton facility this spring at the height of the pandemic.
“I don’t think he received any help at all,” said Beaton, who lives in Delhi, Ont.
“He was totally frustrated from the service that he was receiving with his addiction counsellors leaving because of non-payment of wages.”
Beaton’s son, Drew, was kicked out of the program for disruptive behaviour and sent back to jail following the terms of his release from custody for treatment. It was the first time the 35-year-old had ever attended a treatment program, and Beaton worries he never will again.
“I tried to avoid this. I wanted to help him,” she said. “He really got a bad taste of what a facility for addiction and mental health would be.”
Now Beaton says she’s out $12,500 that she took from her retirement savings to cover the cost of her son’s treatment. He has been released from custody, is homeless and continues to struggle with addiction.
Beaton’s son was given warnings, owner says
Haines confirmed that Beaton’s son did receive treatment at the Brampton facility. He told CBC News in an interview that staff gave Drew several warnings and second chances about his behaviour before he was discharged.
“We do not guarantee 100 per cent success,” Haines said. “We try our hardest and that’s why we have a guarantee to bring them back.”
Haines also acknowledged high turnover in addiction counsellors at his facility at that time, but says they only provide secondary support. Therapists are the primary providers of treatment at ARN, he says.
Former ARN employees and clients who spoke to CBC News want to see the province establish oversight of private addiction treatment because they argue the stakes are much higher compared to other unregulated consumer services.
Rebecca Deguara is one of the former employees who’d like to see the industry regulated. She worked as a part-time addiction counselor at ARN’s Brampton facility while Beaton’s son was there for treatment in the spring.
“I didn’t necessarily see him as being a troublemaker per se,” she told CBC News. “He was trying to express his frustration.”
‘Window of opportunity’ for treatment
Deguara is a retired parole officer and has more than 30 years of experience in social work that has involved people with addictions.
“There’s a window of opportunity when the person is ready to actually seek help and when that window opens, you want that to be a fruitful, positive experience,” she said.
“Hearing what Drew went through, and the fact that he expressed that he never wants to go through treatment again, that to me is a crime in and of itself.”
And Beaton’s son isn’t the only one,” she said.
Deguara says other clients expressed concerns about not getting the treatment they paid for. She had particular concerns about a client who arrived in a wheelchair from hospital even though the facility wasn’t accessible.
“Once [the client] was inside the building there were no hygiene facilities for him to shower,” said Deguara.
“My understanding was a week went by and he was not able to wash himself at all.”
Deguara stated that she only worked a few weekends at the facility before she quit because she didn’t feel safe being alone with one other counsellor and about 10 clients who were upset about their treatment.
“My heart was broken to see clients that were in really dire need of true help, and treatment, not getting it,” she told CBC News.
Haines disputes Deguara’s account of clients’ experiences at his facility, and says she wasn’t a good fit as a counsellor and there was a “mutual separation.”
As for the client in the wheelchair, Haines told CBC News the man was admitted pro bono because a hospital said he needed urgent attention, and his facility doesn’t otherwise treat clients with accessibility needs at the Brampton centre because it isn’t accessible.
Testimonial videos starring actors
Maya Day decided to fly from her home in Edmonton to Toronto to attend ARN’s Brampton facility for treatment for her alcohol addiction earlier this month.
She says she was sold on a combination of the executive-style treatment offered and testimonial videos on ARN’s website.
“[The testimonials] meant a lot to me because video carries a lot of weight when you’re seeing a person speak to their experience,” Day said.
CBC News found that at least four of the company’s testimonial videos feature actors who appear in other testimonials and commercials online.
Day says the centre was more run down than she saw in photos. She also told CBC News she was uncomfortable with the facility’s plan to give her diazepam to help with withdrawal symptoms, since she says she hadn’t received a medical assessment — and never saw any medical staff on-site to supervise such a treatment plan.
As a result, Day told her husband not to pay the remaining $22,500 for her treatment, and left the Brampton facility for Edmonton 24 hours later.
“It was, you know, not easy to come up with that money but we made it a priority,” said Day.
“There’s families out there, they’re scraping together their savings to maybe put a child in treatment … It’d be a shame for them to end up spending their life’s savings on an unregulated place.”
Haines says some actors were used for old testimonial videos due to client privacy concerns, but the words they said belonged to real clients. He told CBC News he would consider making that distinction clear on the videos.
As for Day, Haines says diazepam is a normal, short-term treatment for alcohol withdrawal and he thinks she wasn’t ready for treatment.
Haines says he agrees with the former employees and clients about one thing: the need for regulations on private addiction facilities in Ontario.
“I’d be all for it,” he said.
“And if they said, ‘Sorry, you can’t,’ then I’d hand it off. But I can tell you our program is second-to-none; our program will definitely be approved.”
No plans to regulate private addiction treatment
In a statement, the Ministry of Health told CBC News there are no plans to regulate private addiction treatment providers at the moment.
Instead, the government said its committed $3.8 billion over 10 years to improve community-based services, including publicly funded residential addiction services.
In addition to regulating addiction treatment centres, Haines also told CBC News he’d like to see the province require addiction counselors to be licensed so companies like his would have a reputable list of counselors to hire.
That’s the direction that Alberta has gone in terms of regulation. All private addiction treatment providers have to be licenced by the government, and soon addictions counseling will be added to the professions in Alberta’s Health Professions Act (HPA).
Haines’s past addiction companies declare bankruptcy
This isn’t the first time concerns about Haines’ facilities have been raised with CBC News.
CBC’s Go Public first reported about ex-employees of Haines’s previous company, Addiction Canada, not getting paid, despite government orders, in 2015.
Then further reporting the following year revealed Haines’s two companies, Addiction Canada and Vita Novus, owed more than $500,000 in unpaid wages and were shutting down as Haines faced criminal charges connected to the addiction treatment businesses.
The charges against Haines were dropped in November 2017 and he paid a $5,000 mischief fine for having an unlicensed doctor on staff. In early 2018, both of Haines’s previous companies declared bankruptcy and he started Addiction Recovery Network.
Haines also operated another addiction treatment facility in Alberta, which was closed down by the provincial government last fall due to patient safety concerns.
The current company, ARN, owes nearly $97,000 in unpaid wages from 36 employment standards complaints the Ministry of Labour has ordered ARN to pay up on since 2018.
Haines was found in default by the government on orders to pay more than $76,000 of those wages, and a warrant of seizure and sale was issued against him personally in York Region last month to try to reclaim those funds.
I don’t profess to be a nice boss if they’re not doing their job.– John Haines
Haines says all the unpaid wages are for employees who were fired or quit and so he held out on paying their last paycheque because their departures left other employees and clients in the lurch.
“I don’t profess to be a nice boss if they’re not doing their job,” said Haines.
“I’m wrong when I don’t pay them their last paycheque, so I’m going to right that — but again, they have to understand the damage that they did.”
Haines told CBC News he plans to work out a payment plan with the government for the unpaid wages he owes.
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