Cathy Schmidt, chair of the board of directors of the local branch of the CMHA, said the organization welcomes the recent independent report and will be working to implement its recommendations. (Citizen file)

Cowichan CMHA officials respond to report, probation order

“there are important improvements needed to ensure greater fairness within our housing program.”

The Cowichan Valley Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is viewing the recently-released investigator’s report, and the subsequent spotlight on its operations, as an opportunity to renew its policies and practices and provide further training for its staff and board members.

Cathy Schmidt, the branch’s board chair, said the results of the report will also allow the branch to better connect to the community to bring greater awareness and transparency to the work it does.

“This work will begin immediately so that the many services provided by the organization are clearly supported by a strong vision, a solid policy framework, and effective guidelines,” Schmidt said.

“Although the investigator said that it was apparent to her that, overall, the CMHA-CVB is doing good work delivering important services to people who need help, there are important improvements needed to ensure greater fairness within our housing program. The board has made some staffing changes and will be implementing more mechanisms for conflict resolution at all levels of the organization.”

It was announced last week by the B.C. Division of the CMHA that the local branch has been placed on probationary status for one year after an independent investigation by Victoria lawyer Joanna Gislason, who looked into three complaints about the branch that were received in late 2019.

The first complaint alleged discriminatory and unfair treatment of a tenant, and the second complaint was made by a former board member and alleged unfair treatment and a failure to engage in a respectful resolution process.

The third complaint was broad in nature and expressed general concerns about mismanagement at the branch.

As part of her investigation, Gislason interviewed 28 witnesses and reviewed detailed records and information.

Her report identified a number of issues at the Cowichan Valley branch regarding governance, management, and operations within the branch’s housing programs. and presented a number of findings with recommendations to bring the branch into compliance with policies and CMHA values.

They include that the branch’s housing policies and practices undermined and interfered with a tenant’s security, the conduct of two staff members was inappropriate and interfered with a tenant’s security and the branch’s housing program would benefit from a thorough review and redesign.

But concerns that the branch is not spending funds appropriately or not accounting for spending properly were not substantiated by the investigation, and the branch was compliant with accounting requirements, including completing an annual audit and posting its audited financial statements and annual report publicly on its website, according to Gislason’s report.

Schmidt also said that, although there are certainly problems that are outside of the branch’s control, and which arise from a paucity of financial resources, Gislason’s inquiries did not raise any concerns with operations in program areas that include the emergency shelter, youth and family programs, the overdose prevention site, and others.

As well, Schmidt said that Gislason found no evidence to support the allegation that programs that are being advertised are not actually being delivered.

“However, the investigator concluded that tenancy agreements and other aspects of the housing program do require review,” Schmidt said.

“[Gislason] acknowledged that ‘the intentions of management were good, but, it is the impact of actions and inactions that is relevant, not whether intentions were good’. The board and management are committed to moving forward with reforms and revisions. In response to the investigator’s recommendation that increased skills-based training is needed in cultural safety, trauma and resilience-informed practice, non-violent communication, and dispute resolution, the branch’s acting executive director, Anne Brunet, commented that the staff welcomes this and any other training. Seeking funding for this will be a priority.”

Schmidt said the branch also welcomes input, advice, and support from the CMHA-BC Division and will be working closely with the provincial office to implement all of the recommendations of the report.

She said that in order to improve the delivery of services to people across the province, the B.C. Division is requiring that all CMHA branches in British Columbia review and implement the recommendations of the report.

Schmidt said that when the report’s recommendations are implemented, she believes that the organization will be in even better shape to continue its work to ensure that care reaches those who need it.

“Going forward, we will be reaching out to the community to make sure that our accountability, transparency, and service delivery are well-understood and above reproach,” she said.

“This way, we can truly focus on trying to make the lives of the people we serve better.”

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