The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has ceased funding the Three Voices of Healing Society (TVOHS) in Invermere after their third party partner, White Rock Consulting Inc., recently conducted a financial review of the Aboriginal addictions treatment centres spending following some alarm bells about the organizations debt and financial mismanagement.

Sonia Isaac-Mann, executive director of Community Health and Wellness Services with the FNHA, stated that investigating the TVOHS debt and how it could be paid back unearthed a bigger picture than the organization could fathom.

We actually also received a call from Peace Hills Trust around the debt position and how that would be paid back by TVOHS, said Ms. Isaac-Mann by phone. Then, there was also a request from TVOHS for additional funding, which triggered a financial review that the board of TVOHS, FNHA and the Shuswap Indian Band (SIB) actually agreed to, so a third party manager was appointed to do that review in June of 2015.

The accredited inpatient alcohol and drug abuse treatment society had been operating the 28,000 square foot TVOHS centre on 6.2 acres of Shuswap Band Land since 2012. It received about $1.26 million in funding in 2013/14, including approximately $950,000 from FNHA.

However, the financial review which examined the TVOHS accounting books from April 2010 to March 2015 revealed significant debt in 2013/14 and that the society was overdrawn by $307,801 one third of its total funding. The debt grew by over $56,000 in 2014/15.

Some of the expenditures listed in the financial review that concerned FNHA included a staff development session at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas for $5,000 in 2014; pedicures at a resort spa for $253; $10,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs for three people to visit a rehab centre in Italy; an executive director salary of $178,464.14, approximately 40 per cent of the total centres salary and benefits payments; the sale of a personal vehicle by Ms. Tikks husband to the centre for $14,000; excessive moving expenditures including pet boarding charges; the purchase of two iMac computers in 2014 for $4,629.22; and $1,741 for four tires for

executive director Delena Tikks personal vehicle.

There was also questionable spending recorded with unsupported transactions dating back to 2010.

The one thing we want to make sure is clear is that FNHA went into this with patient safety and welfare at the forefront of our discussions with the board to make sure that the patients in our care were actually receiving the treatments that they were supposed to be receiving, said Ms. Isaac-Mann. Part of what we did in terms of the wind down, or the ceasing of the funding (to TVOHS), was done in between treatment cycles, so there would be very little impact on patients.

First Nations clients in B.C. seeking residential drug and alcohol treatment can now be accommodated in one of 11 FNHA-funded treatment centres. FNHA currently funds 254 residential treatment beds in B.C.

Round Lake (Treatment Centre located near Armstrong) has agreed to take on additional clients (from TVOHS), said Ms. Isaac-Mann.

She would like to see a new program developed that best meets the needs of clients in the Columbia Valley and has ensured funding for drug and alcohol treatment in the region will continue to be made accessible to prospective patients, but she emphasized the importance of determining how patient services will continue moving forward with other programs.

One of the things that we were made aware of was that, when TVOHS was operating, 40 per cent of their clients were from Alberta, she said, explaining that the funding provided by FNHA was intended exclusively for B.C. residents.

FHNA will not be pursuing legal action against TVOHS at this point in time, as it wants to focus on safety for clients and staff first.

Centre intends to continue operating

In an exclusive interview with The Pioneer, Ms. Tikk and TVOHS president Karen LeClair criticized the financial review.

Its nowhere near accurate, said Ms. LeClair by phone.

When asked if TVOHS stood behind the transactions that were included in the financial review, the duo replied: Those all happened, but the way they happened was not recorded in the review or in the (Province story) properly.

Ms. LeClair believes the auditor who completed the financial review selectively omitted the information that was provided to him by Ms. Tikk. In fact, Ms. Tikk alleges that payments from FNHA arrived late for payroll, which prompted her to use $13,000 of her personal money on staff.

Payroll happened before the FNHA money came, explained Ms. LeClair. The executive director put in $13,000 of her own money to make payroll for the centre so the centre owed (her), so part of the payment back to the executive director was for tires.

In addition, Ms. Tikk added that the trip to Italy (previously reported on by The Pioneer) was a staff development expense that had been approved by the TVOHS funders and board members.

There was documentation and receipts everything was provided to the reviewer in May when he was here by both myself and our auditor but he didnt put that in his statement, said Ms. Tikk. Everything was pre-approved, passed with motions or whatever. Everything was accountable and accounted for in the budget.

Now, Ms. Tikk and Ms. LeClair are planning to keep the doors of TVOHS open in the same location, and plan to pursue financial support from private partners and other avenues.

We are staying open and we are pursuing funding, said Ms. LeClair. Were in negotiation for a contract right now and we fully anticipate that we will be offering drug and alcohol addictions services to First Nations people, but we will not be part of the National Native Alcohol and Drug Addictions Program.

There were 18 applicants to TVOHS over the holidays, according to Ms. Tikk, that she alleges will be denied access to the program due to the loss of funding.

Community reacts

The Columbia Valley community has responded to the TVOHS controversial spending habits that diurectly benefited Ms. Tikk and her family.

FNHA funding is intended to support the treatment of First Nations people and not for the benefit of specific individuals, wrote Shuswap Indian Band chief Barb Cote in a recent press release. FNHA acted under its own authority and with the highest level of professionalism, while addressing a very difficult situation.

The audit provided a recommendation to the effect that: the executive director does not approve any cheque requisitions or sign cheques that are payable to her or her family, where she is receiving a direct benefit such as travel, training and rent. All cheques made payable to the executive director must be signed by two board members. In addition, the review documented concerns about the use of credit card spending that mixed personal and professional expenses due to the use of a personal credit card, and recommended a board policy that prevented the use of personal credit cards for TVOHS purchases. However, the FNHA issued a termination notice to TVOHS effective on Thursday, December 31st.

I think the FNHA acted responsibly in carrying out an appropriate investigation and acting accordingly, said Dr. Murray Trusler, former board chair and family physician at TVOHS.

Some of the staff who were terminated as a result of the funding cancellation expressed grave concerns about the findings of the financial review.

Glady Sam, a former TVOHS intake worker, called the situation disgusting and questioned how Ms. Tikk could justify spending money on trips abroad for training that had no direct benefit to the clients when herself and other staff frequently chipped in their own money to cover the cost of food and recreational activities for clients like bowling and hockey games on top of their needed office supplies at work.

Im sad, replied Gerard Gregoire, former TVOHS senior counsellor, when asked about the loss of funding. Im disappointed because it was a good program that made a difference in the lives of the participating men.