Intimidated and threatened staff, people put at risk, families fearful of retaliation, an agency coverup and allegations of a vindictive government agenda swirl around the former care of the mentally challenged in Prince Rupert.
When Fairview Management Services (FMS) was suddenly replaced by Thompson Community Services (TCS) as the service providers for Community Living B.C. (CLBC) last fall, details were scarce as to the rationale and the implications. But Freedom of Information documents released to a former FMS employee and obtained by The Northern View paint a picture of an organization that CLBC wanted gone so badly they were willing to pay a heavy fee to do it.
A culture of fear
Following up on comments about service in Prince Rupert, CLBC hired consultant Fred Ford to conduct an instructional review of Fairview Management in early 2012. When the report was released on March 30, 2012 it outlined a number of perceived deficiencies within the organization.
Ford discovered a litany of unreported serious incidents and critical incident reports being filled out by employees who were not even there.
He also suggested family members of those in care were reticent to raise concerns for fear of retaliation and staff were claiming management would retaliate against them if they question or criticize management. He stated that staff felt “intimidated” by management and pointed to several external agencies that had expressed “serious concerns about the way that FMS management operates”.
“Virtually all interviewees describe a culture of fear, intimidation and retribution within the agency and the community. Staff, family members and others consistently said they fear retribution for speaking out. Staff members report verbal abuse, bullying and unfairly targeting staff for disciplinary action by the administrative director (Joe Viscount),” wrote Ford, noting concerns were also raised about the administrative director talking about confidential client information in a public setting.
“A common theme was FMS agency management threatening legal action against those with whom they had conflicts – this includes family members, staff members, external agencies and professionals.”
Other concerns in the report included discrepancies between support hours stated for billing and the hours indicated by staff and families. There was also felt to be a lack of training to deal with various disabilities experienced by clients, something Ford said put “a number of individuals as being at risk of health problems, injury or death”.
On June 5, 2012, Fairview Management owner Alice Compagnon was served a notice of deficiency indicating the company had 30 days to correct failures in the areas of individual rights, individualized planning and response to complex care needs, reporting of risks and critical incidents, dispute resolution, employee relations and staffing, and support for family involvement. CLBC later hired Ford to review Fairview Management’s response to the letter, and Ford concluded the response was inadequate.
“The agency has not made significant progress in implementing its remediation plan. The plans and statements by the executive director in interviews with CLBC personnel do not convey a sense of urgency nor a heightened sense of concern for the areas of safety, vulnerability and risk … the agency has not demonstrated leadership or diligence in remedying the concerns presented in the Instructional Review,” Ford wrote in his Aug. 20, 2012 review.
“The delays in implementing remediation plans and the lack of urgency in addressing key issues of concern suggest that individuals supported by the agency continue to be at risk.”
“This is a wash job”
Compagnon, however, said CLBC never gave her the information she needed to fully address the perceived deficiencies outlined in Ford’s report.
“The investigator, Fred Ford, never fully investigated this. He never talked to me and he never talked to Joe about these allegations … he had an agenda. That was it,” she said.
“He took the complaints from the community and staff and didn’t investigate at all. I asked for the information about the complaints and who was making them and I was not given that information. By not telling me who was involved or what the complaint was, I could not address it … people were coming to him, telling him things and they were acting on it. That’s hearsay. I could never get to the bottom of it because they never gave me a chance to investigate it myself.”
Viscount, who Campognon said CLBC was trying to get rid of, said the people making the complaints had an agenda of their own, including a number of staff who were “disgruntled” at the time of the investigation.
“They used all of this to end Alice’s contracts and they said it was without grounds … they decided, arbitrarily, on the basis of comments made in hearsay, to ruin and steal the business Alice invested all her money in,” he said.
“This is a wash job. The people doing the work are nasty people, in my opinion. They have no clear values in working with people … we worked with people for 22 years, we never had a death, we never had an injury … we’ve had five provincial reviews, and all were good.”
In his review, Ford points to an incident in February 2012 in which Viscount was said to have “charged” into the Prince Rupert Salvation Army and “accosted” a woman who worked both there and at FMS. But in a letter from Capt. Gary Sheils, nothing of the kind happened.
“It has been erroneously reported that some months back … Joe’s demeanour and attitude were overly aggressive and threatening. In my opinion, that was most certainly not the case. Joe had come to seek out the truth and he did so in a controlled and professional manner,” Sheils wrote in a letter dated June 6, 2013.
“I have known Joe for more than 10 years … at all times my experience with Joe was positive and I have no knowledge of him acting in an unprofessional manner.”
As another example, Viscount points to staff relations concerns, which played a major role in the external review of the operation.
“We had no grievances outstanding. There were none. There was one allegation that was disallowed by the union,” he said.
As for FMS not working on the problems, Compagnon said she was in the midst of taking steps including holding a fall meeting with the family to avoid conflict with summer vacations and flying in a trainer to give staff additional skills.
“Everything was in place, everything was in the works when CLBC came in,” she said.
People at risk
Government emails point to a number of instances when individuals working for or under the care of Fairview were put at risk.
A Sept. 10, 2012 email from Ford to CLBC manager of quality assurance Megan Tardif outlines concerns raised by a FMS staff member that a female co-worker was working alone with a client who allegedly had a history of sexual offences.
“I think this is an emergency and needs to be addressed immediately … this is very unusual – women are never assigned to work with [him],” wrote Ford, noting the staff member said Compagnon was unable to afford overlap orientation shifts for two people.
“There is a concern that this woman could be assaulted … [he] is a big guy – over 250 pounds and she is inexperienced and on her own.”
In another instance, a different client was housed with the same man at a time when there wasn’t 24-hour supervision. Those close to the roommate noticed a change in his behaviour, a regression that included thumb-sucking and saying he didn’t want to go home because the other man was “mean” to him.
The client who had regressed was, at one point, required to take off his clothes by support workers when he returned home. Viscount said this particular incident began due to concerns about bed bugs, as the client was recently in a home known to be infested. The practice of having the client stripped at the door was quickly stopped.
“Alice did give the direction to cease the removal of clothing at the front door … she never sanctioned it,” Viscount said.
Government covers up the cause
While the review of operations were potentially damning and were, in-part, cited as the reason for revoking the agreement, the larger issue was one of confidence in the organization.
“We have lost confidence in this agency and so are concerned for the health and safety of the individuals and also for our staff’s ability to closely monitor this in a remote community,” wrote quality assurance manager Tardif on Sept. 13, 2012.
While that may have been the case, legal counsel Maria Coley with the Ministry of Justice Legal Services Branch said that was not what the public should hear.
“I strongly recommend against making any form of public disclosure in relation to FMS’ performance. CLBC cannot then state publicly, or disclose in any way … that it is terminating the contract for good reason or cause,” she wrote.
“CLBC should not disclose – to the community, individuals and family serviced by FMS staff, the new service provider, FMS management, in short, to anyone – any reason for why CLBC terminated the contract that have anything to do with FMS’s performance under the contracts or loss of confidence in FMS.”
Community Living communication director David Hurford pointed to the apparent dishonesty of the situation.
“This is curious advise [sic] from the legal team. It appears they are suggesting we cover up the conclusions of the external review. This is the opposite of what a transparent organization should be doing,” he wrote in an Oct. 1, 2012 email.
“The fact is the action being taken here is in large part because the results and recommendations of the external review have not been followed. If the service was good, would the contract still be ending?”
It came down to CLBC interim CEO Doug Wollard to decide not to tell the public about the situation.
“The review is significant and has played a major role in our decision-making. But at the same time we are not terminating for cause so we need to be cautious about tying the review to the termination,” reads an Oct. 1, 2012 email from Wollard.
The external reviews raise concerns about safety of the individuals, but if that were the case FMS’s contract would not be terminated without cause according to legal counsel Maria Coley.
“I have also reminded you of 18.1c which allows CLBC to terminate immediately if the health or safety of an individual receiving services is at immediate risk … it was my understanding that CLBC did not feel that the health or safety of any individual was at risk currently,” she wrote on Oct. 1, 2012.
However, in an interview on June 20, 2013 Hurford said safety was the driving force behind the change.
“The whole issue was the safety of the people we serve and their well-being, that is the whole reason we took the action we did,” he said, noting there was a high level of consultation with families involved and hence the emergency awarding of the contract to Thompson Community Services.
“Our first priority is for the families we serve. It was pretty clear the families wanted to make that transition … the consensus was they wanted the change to happen quickly, so we listened to their wishes.”
Money on the table
Shortly after Ford’s evaluation was handed in, Community Living BC began examining options and seeking legal advice on how to terminate the contract with Fairview Management.
“What we are hoping to do is present a letter of termination but also a ‘letter of agreement’ that would outline the transition plan and would require FMS to sign-off that they will comply in exchange for the $333,000 that would be 60 days notice funding,” wrote manager of quality assurance Megan Tardif in a Sept. 13, 2012 email, with later correspondence showing the amount jumping to $340,000.
A draft communication plan to deal with media and the public, actually dated before the email from Tardif, indicates the money was taken from a contingency in CLBC’s annual budget “reserved for contractual and/or legal matters”.
Hurford said FMS was paid the value of the remaining 60 days as per the contract and that it was not the $340,000 mentioned in correspondence.
Compagnon, however, said the initial $340,000 number was greatly inflated. The contract was terminated on Oct. 9 and FMS was only paid for October and November.
“There was never that much money. All the money they paid went to paying the receiver general, paying staff and closing the business,” she said.
“When it was done, I didn’t come out of it with anything.”
A quick turnaround
The same day the Oct. 1 emails were exchanged, Fairview Management’s contract was notified of the termination of their contract as of Oct. 9, 2012 and work was underway to award the new contract to Thompson.
“We are processing the awarding of the contracts to TCS on an emergency basis, effective Oct. 10. I have alerted corporate services to process the new contracts expeditiously. TCS has declined the offer of a cash advance at this time,” wrote David MacPherson, CLBC’s director of regional operations for Vancouver Island and North Regions on Oct. 4, 2012.
“After the initial shock, the contractor is now showing ‘total co-operation’ according to staff and TCS.”
While TCS wasn’t awarded the contract until October, a May 21, 2012 email from then northern region manager Patricia Marshall about an emergency termination of the contract shows Community Living B.C. already had the idea of replacing Fairview with TCS months before any action was taken.
“I think it would be following due process to go with the 90 days (tender) and know that Thomspon would likely get the contract anyway,” she wrote to director of regional operations for Vancouver and Vancouver Island David MacPherson.
“Regardless, Thompson wants the opportunity to bid if it’s awarded for 90 days.”
Although TCS was awarded the contract on an emergency basis effective Oct. 10, 2012, CLBC then tendered the contract from Feb. 13, 2013 to March 14, 2013. TCS was awarded the contract on March 26, 2013 effective May 1, 2013.
The fact that the contract was terminated without cause is another sign of CLBC’s hidden agenda, said Compagnon and Viscount.
“After going through this lengthy investigation and bringing in an outside investigator, they didn’t find what they were looking for,” said Compagnon.
“After all this reporting, if they had something, do you think they would have terminated it without cause?” Viscount asked.
Viscount has taken it upon himself to get answers through Freedom of Information requests. For more than a year, however, the names of people that were interviewed during Ford’s investigation and referenced in his report have been withheld by Community Living B.C.
Compagnon is seeking legal assistance to get to the bottom of the situation. She is seeking disclosure of all complaints, a “full inquiry into CLBC conduct to discover if CLBC has been maleficent in dealings with FMS” and whether “CLBC employees conspired to end FMS contracts”, and compensation for her losses.
While there may be a number of questions surrounding the termination of Fairview Management Service’s contract last fall, David Hurford said the change to Thompson Community Services has been a positive one for those needing care in the community.
“We have not received any complaints from staff or the families of those in care about the current service provider in Prince Rupert,” he said during a June 20, 2013 interview.