06/05/2012 03:02 EDT | Updated 08/05/2012 05:12 EDT

Better oversight needed for Nova Scotia addiction recovery facilities: officials

HALIFAX - The recent closure of an addiction recovery centre in Cape Breton has highlighted the need for better provincial oversight, a legislature committee was told Tuesday.

Talbot House closed its doors in March in the middle of an organizational review by the Community Services Department. The review was launched following a complaint from a former resident over how the centre was run.

The review concluded the facility, located in Frenchvale, hadn't been operating in compliance with provincial standards. It also found there was no evidence its 10-member board had been actively overseeing the facility's operation.

Even though recovery houses have specific reporting requirements, staff at Talbot House weren't providing an accurate account of what was going on at the facility, said George Savoury, an executive director with the department.

"We were given information that would indicate that they were more compliant than they were," Savoury said outside the hearing room.

Marika Lathem, director of the department's family and youth services division, said the annual reports produced by recovery houses contain anecdotal and qualitative information on the number of clients served and the types of programs offered, among other things.

"We work in good faith with these organizations and we believe that what they provide us in terms of reporting is actually what's happening there," Lathem told the community services committee.

"This experience has certainly highlighted the need for us to look at things differently as far as how we provide that oversight."

Savoury said reviews of the province's four recovery facilities would likely be changed from an "as needed basis" to an annual practice.

Liberal committee member Kelly Regan said more could have been done to save the 53-year-old facility in Cape Breton.

"If there had been oversight ... perhaps this wouldn't have been necessary," she said.

Savoury said the department wasn't responsible for the fact Talbot House is now closed.

"We were surprised when the board informed us that was the course they were going to follow," he said.

Keith Bain, a Progressive Conservative committee member, said it was clear the department was blaming the Talbot House board for the department's shortcomings.

"What effort did the department make prior to getting a complaint before they started investigating?" Bain asked.

A report on the department's website in April detailed a myriad of problems at the centre.

It found that monthly board meetings weren't being held and that there hadn't been an annual general meeting in 13 years.

The report also said staff didn't have job descriptions and that residents had no process for complaints prior to January of this year.

At the time, board chairman John Gainer dismissed the report as flawed, saying it contained "sufficient errors, inaccuracies and misrepresentations."

But Gainer also conceded that Talbot House had failed to meet provincial standards.

Meanwhile, the province announced Tuesday that a request for proposals for a new facility in Cape Breton will be issued before the end of the month.