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Former Clients Raise Concerns about Prominent Drug Treatment Provider

Edgewood Health Network offers itself as a model for overcoming dependency. Some BC patients tell a different story. A Tyee special report.

Dustin Godfrey 17 Oct 2023The Tyee

Dustin Godfrey is a freelance journalist based in New Westminster. They are interested in justice and its many intersections.

As the toxic drug crisis heightens a public desire to see people break addictive behaviour, Edgewood Health Network Inc. offers itself as a model for treatment and recovery. It boasts the “most medically informed rehabilitation in Canada.”

And the private company is gaining ground as a major treatment provider, with a growing portfolio of treatment centres in B.C., Alberta and beyond, including a large partnership to provide government-funded treatment at a new 75-bed centre in Red Deer.

But a number of former clients and family members of former clients at the company’s Nanaimo and Vancouver programs are raising concerns about safety in the spaces, and about the quality of treatment at Edgewood treatment centres.

The private company operates nine inpatient facilities across Canada, including, in B.C., an outpatient centre in Vancouver, a Nanaimo residential facility, and a “Recovery Ranch” in Fort Steele.

Edgewood, which also has inpatient facilities in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, advertises treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, trauma and codependency for people caring for loved ones who are struggling.

Other private recovery firms have larger contracts with the B.C. government, but last October, the province announced 10 beds at Edgewood’s Cranbrook facility, less than a year after it announced five beds at the Nanaimo facility.

In B.C. and Ontario, a variety of programs direct patients to Edgewood, including programs for military members, police officers and other first responders. It’s the “preferred treatment provider” for the union representing firefighters. And it’s one of a handful of treatment centres that workers may have to attend to receive disability benefits, through a contract with the Workers' Compensation Board, according to PressProgress.

But much of Edgewood’s client base is paying out of their own pockets, and how much depends on depth of care.

Edgewood Health Network says its 50-day program at the Nanaimo facility costs $38,750, for example, with some flexibility for the length of stay “based on a client’s needs or various contracts we have.”

For that price, Edgewood says, its clients “receive quality, evidence-based care, adapted to clients’ needs, always putting patients at the centre and meeting them where they are at.” Included are clinical and medical services, rooms, food and housekeeping, as well as a family support program and full complement of 140 staff.

It’s cheaper to attend Edgewood’s Vancouver-based outpatient program: $8,137.50.

On its website, Edgewood boasts 96 per cent satisfaction across patients who completed programs.

But half a dozen people who’ve gone through Edgewood treatment or paid for relatives to receive it raised questions about adequate safety measures, quality of counselling, the program’s emphasis on 12-step methods based on Christian traditions, lack of preparation for future relapse and whether the fees are worth the results.

Concerns over safety measures

Megan Eichhorn was fleeing a toxic work culture that brought her to a breaking point when she left her home in Calgary in December 2020.

For years, Eichhorn said, her workaholism covered up her alcoholism. But she reached a tipping point during the pandemic when strained relationships at work turned toxic.

“I quickly kind of spiralled after that. I’ve had body image issues my whole life. I’ve struggled with bulimia and anorexia since I was a teenager,” Eichhorn said.

She needed help but wanted to avoid running into professional contacts while seeking treatment. Instead, she chose to leave the province.

Just a few days before Christmas 2020, Eichhorn landed in Edgewood’s residential facility in Nanaimo, B.C.

“Overall, I had a positive experience there,” Eichhorn said of her time at Edgewood’s Nanaimo inpatient treatment centre. “That being said, I also recognize that there are some very serious issues with the way that they run things, and they should not in any way be running publicly funded rehabs in Alberta. Or anywhere.”

Eichhorn has been sober since attending Edgewood. She credits relationships with other clients she formed there, recovery community bonds so strong she decided to stay in Nanaimo after finishing Edgewood’s program.

“There was so much camaraderie, and I’d never been around other people who were open about their addiction before, so I really just connected with the other patients,” she said.

But Eichhorn said some of the male clients acted towards her in ways that made her feel unsafe, and she felt Edgewood staff dismissed her concerns.

Another client who, for privacy reasons, we call Jane in this story, attended Edgewood for sex addiction while Eichhorn was there. “There [were] a few male patients that were making us feel uncomfortable just to be around,” Jane confirmed. “And a lot of the girls pointed that out.”

One man, Jane said, would stare at women in group activities such as therapy sessions, making fists and grunting.

Jane joined Eichhorn and others in protesting to Edgewood management. “I remember them telling us that we didn’t need to react that way,” Jane said. “That person or those people were in there and needing help, too.”

Jane claims another client, who was in Edgewood fleeing an abuser, asked that a man who made her uncomfortable be moved to a different group. But the people running the treatment centre refused, Jane said.

That same man was housed in the women’s wing of the facility, which Jane found unnerving, particularly because clients couldn’t lock their doors.

“We had to beg for him to be moved. And I think he ended up being moved later, but it wasn’t because of us,” Jane said.

“I remember them telling me specifically that I was a natural leader and people like to follow me and that I should be careful what I say to people because I can really get things started and stirring things up.

“So I felt like they were telling me that I should be quiet about it, and I shouldn’t voice my concerns.”

Carrie McVeigh, executive director of Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, told The Tyee in a written statement, “Staff have the safety of every patient, and of the patient community as a whole, at the forefront of their minds.”

“We can’t always provide clients with information on any action taken with other clients due to patient confidentiality and anonymity,” she wrote. “It’s possible this may appear as though an issue has been ‘brushed off.’ However, we always convey that we have dealt with a concern/complaint.”

Grey, low-rise buildings with light green roofs sprawl across a quiet street on a grey day.
The exterior of Edgewood Treatment Centre, a residential facility in Nanaimo. Photo via Google Street View.

Jane was triggered again this year, two years after leaving Edgewood, when she found out a fellow resident was convicted of what a Crown prosecutor described as a “horrendous sexual assault” and a “litany of torment” that he committed prior to attending treatment.

Jason Redmond was sentenced on June 15, 2023, to six years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman who had passed out after drinking alcohol. The court heard that Redmond filmed the assault in order to show the woman that “anybody could rape her” due to her drinking problem and that he kept the video because he thought it was funny, according to a CBC report.

Just a few days prior to his sentencing, Redmond was found guilty of another nine violent offences for attacking another woman several times between 2019 and 2021, including choking, punching, pushing and “causing the woman to be cut by a knife,” according to a CBC report.

Jane said she spent a lot of time with Redmond while they were there, that she was trying to “retrain” herself to find men she could trust, and part of that meant trusting Redmond.

“So much of my trauma and so many things came flooding back to me. It was really, really retraumatizing,” Jane said of finding out about Redmond’s conviction.

“I’m on my own now, and my parents paid for Edgewood. I can’t afford therapy to... fix that. And so now I feel like they’ve not only retraumatized me, it’s almost worse than when I went in because now I’m on my own.”

Claims of uneven therapy options

The Tyee spoke with four former clients and the father of a fifth former client of the Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, where the main offering is a 50-day inpatient program that Eichhorn and Jane were part of. All but one raised concerns about the effectiveness of its recovery programming. A sixth source, Kathleen Radu, whose son attended the Vancouver outpatient program, raised similar concerns with that facility’s programming.

The former clients described an uneven therapy program that tilted hard towards the 12-step method of Alcoholics Anonymous and seemed to offer inconsistent access to counsellors across individual clients.

“I realized pretty quickly [that] everybody gets a different-quality counsellor,” said Patrick Chester, who attended Edgewood at the same time as Eichhorn and Jane. Eichhorn and Chester both spoke positively about their own counsellors but noted that other clients would go weeks without seeing theirs. “So literally they had no idea what was going on,” Chester said.

One of those people was Simon, who granted his father, Ted, permission to tell his story. The Tyee is using pseudonyms for Simon and Ted to protect Simon’s privacy as he seeks employment. Ted said Simon was without a counsellor for his first several days at Edgewood, as no counsellors were available during weekends. Even after Simon was assigned one, Ted said, he often didn’t have access to his counsellor.

Edgewood’s McVeigh told The Tyee that counsellors in the centre’s “Core Program” are required to engage with formal one-on-one sessions with clients at least once a week.

“While it might appear as though this is not enough, one needs to be mindful that clients see their counsellor and other counsellors all week and in a variety of ways,” McVeigh wrote, citing impromptu one-on-ones and group conversations as examples.

“Further, the programming is not the same as external one-on-one counselling. Edgewood believes that peer-to-peer interaction is essential to the treatment and recovery journey. Clients learn to reach out, as addiction is an isolating disease. Success outside of treatment is strengthened by one’s ability to reach out for support and help.”

Rather than the complex individual therapies Ted said he was led to believe were available to Simon, the emphasis appeared to be more on lectures for clients to attend.

Everyone who spoke to The Tyee agreed: the overriding program at Edgewood, whether you liked it or not, is 12-step. The 12 steps are the foundation of a quasi-religious program founded in the 1930s through Alcoholics Anonymous to address addictions. Among the steps are an admission of powerlessness to addiction, an admission of wrongdoings, and finding “sanity” through faith in a higher power.

Faith can be a helpful tool for some. Chester, for example, said he has found meaning through faith as he works on his recovery. For others who spoke to The Tyee, the religious aspect was at best off-putting.

Chester and Simon take issue with the 12-step requirement of submitting oneself to a higher power. Both felt this deflects responsibility away from the individual. Critics have pointed out that 12-step methods are not well grounded in science.

Eichhorn offered a different objection. Christianity, she said, is “a shame-based religion” and “that shame permeates all of these recovery communities that are tied to the 12-step or any rehabs that are using these religious programs.” She asked: “How is that shame helpful for all of us who’ve been sexually abused?”

Beyond AA methods, sources said they could participate in loosely moderated group therapy sessions resembling cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as their individual counselling sessions. Staff members gave lectures or provided YouTube videos to watch. But most of the speakers the centre brought in were representatives of AA programs, according to Ted.

AA and some of the other resources could be accessed outside of Edgewood for little or no cost, sources told The Tyee. All concluded Edgewood’s services were not worth the amount charged.

And when Simon tried to access alternatives to 12-step, Ted said, he was told there wasn’t capacity in those groups for him.

Edgewood’s McVeigh said any client expressing criticism of the program is heard and provided with alternative options. “However, many clients seek out Edgewood, because it is underpinned by AA philosophy and 12-step recovery model,” she wrote.

“I’m not sure one can say that it [AA] is ineffectual for a lot of people. Rather, many would say the opposite. However, there is an abundance of data and research, some of which is qualitative, stating the 12-step model is successful for many. The 12-step model has been around for over 70 years with a demand and thus availability of meetings worldwide.”

For programs other than 12-step such as Self-Management and Recovery Training, or SMART Recovery, and dharma recovery, which are listed as Edgewood offerings, “there is little evidence that these are more/less successful than 12-step, and they are not widely accessible across the country when clients return home,” McVeigh wrote.

“Regardless, they are offered and available.”

A lack of wraparound supports

No treatment program can guarantee a 100 per cent recovery rate, and Edgewood makes no such claims.

But using patient satisfaction surveys, the company claims high satisfaction rates — 94.8 per cent of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that its services “have helped me deal more effectively with my life’s challenges,” while 96.5 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that they would recommend the service to a friend in need.

In an emailed statement, the BC Centre on Substance Use notes treatment programs “can be as effective or more effective than other psychosocial interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol-related consequences.”

But the organization cautions that the academic literature on the topic is mixed, in large part due to a lack of standardized research methodology.

“Similarly, a lack of standardization and delivery within the treatment framework makes evaluation difficult,” the BCCSU said.

That people trying to overcome dependency on substances or other risky behaviours often relapse, even multiple times, is well documented.

Kathleen Radu, who spent $80,000 on various treatment options for her son, Morgan Goodridge, knows too well that recovery can prove to be a heartbreakingly elusive goal.

On June 16, 2020, Goodridge died after relapsing into drug use amidst several attempts at recovery. The coroner found the synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil in his system. At the time, Goodridge, having tried a range of privately funded treatment options, was living in what’s known as a sober house, a supportive living facility for people leaving residential treatment.

The year that he died, Goodridge was one of 1,775 people in B.C. who died of toxic drug poisoning. In 2021, that number was 2,296. In 2022, it was 2,358. This year is on track to see that number rise again.

Radu cautions that families accessing care at treatment centres are presented with rosy pictures of sobriety and abstinence — her son would be “a new man,” she recalls being told — with little acknowledgment or preparation for potential relapse on the other side of treatment.

She is an advocate with Moms Stop the Harm and is in contact with other families whose loved ones have also struggled to find what they were hoping for in recovery-oriented facilities. There is no plan for what to do if and when their loved ones experience relapse of drug use, she said.

“There’s nothing that, together, shows wraparound supports. You’re just writing a big cheque, and at the end of the day, when they relapse... what do you do?” Radu asked.

In an era marked by drugs so toxic that they defy typical harm reduction efforts — in a market where the unpredictability of fentanyl that has so dominated news coverage is now sometimes overshadowed by drugs tainted with benzodiazepines — relapse is ever more likely to result in death.

A woman with blond hair and a black top leans to the right, into the shoulder of her young adult son. He is wearing a white T-shirt and has dark hair. They are sitting in a red upholstered restaurant booth and the window behind them overlooks a quiet street.
Kathleen Radu, left, and her late son, Morgan Goodridge. Photo submitted.

“There becomes even a greater urgency to have a support system even in these treatment centres. And that isn’t there, and that was definitely the case for my son, and for many other parents that we talk to,” Radu said.

Nicole Luongo says abstinence can’t be the only measure of success in addictions treatment. She is the systems change co-ordinator with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, a Vancouver-based policy organization that advocates on behalf of the rights of drug users. Luongo has personal experience with several recovery facilities, including Edgewood.

“We also need to be looking at quality of life,” she said. “I know so many people like myself who have done the addiction treatment thing over and over and over and have attained periods of abstinence, but while they’re abstinent, they’re so miserable.”

Luongo went five years sober after her time at Edgewood, but she described that time as half a decade of “white-knuckling it.” Her treatment persuaded her into sobriety, but it failed to address the underlying trauma and mental health issues that pushed her into drug use and bulimia in the first place. She said this necessarily resulted in a psychotic break that ended with her using drugs and relapsing into her bulimia.

“And it was the first time in five years I felt like I could breathe,” Luongo said.

Luongo is now sober again, and she was able to continue on with her academic career. And she says the issue isn’t that all treatment centres are inherently bad.

But B.C.’s recovery industry is the “Wild West,” Luongo said, because it is “one of the only consumer services that doesn’t have any real regulatory oversight.”

‘Many unqualified operators’

“In respect of regulation, we agree,” Edgewood’s McVeigh told The Tyee.

“There are many unqualified operators, and each province has different regulatory requirements. Having a higher level of regulation will be a good thing for patients. All our facilities are accredited and to the best of our knowledge we are the only mental health and addiction organization in Canada (public or private) that consistently measures clinical outcomes. All providers should be doing this.”

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside declined to be interviewed for this story, but the ministry said in an emailed statement that the province regulates residential recovery spaces through the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, and providers need to register with the Ministry of Health’s Assisted Living Registry.

The province noted changes to the act in 2019 gave the ministry the ability to conduct routine inspections “and take action where there is an immediate risk to the health or safety of a resident.” And the ministry quietly published the Provincial Standards for Registered Assisted Living Supportive Recovery Services in September 2021, including “important information for service providers on medication-assisted treatment, such as opioid agonist therapy and evidence-informed practice.”

Those new standards do include “required elements,” including offering “a range” of individual and group programming that “must be evidence-informed,” and staff training for responding to relapse and overdose.

A ministry slide deck for recovery facility operators and staff notes the new standards were expected to be implemented at recovery services by March 2023.

But the slide deck emphasizes the standards are not a regulatory requirement. Instead, they are only enforceable through health authority contracts, with the document suggesting operators without contracts “are encouraged to adopt standards into their services.”

When asked in January of this year how many treatment beds there are in the province, the B.C. government’s emailed response was that, beyond the 3,260 publicly funded beds as of September 2022, the province “does not report on privately funded beds.”

The provincial government has talked for years of regulating the industry, and the all-party select standing committee on health produced a report in November of last year that, among other things, called on the province to both regulate the recovery industry and increase oversight over the industry, including collecting data, to measure outcomes.

In its statement, the province didn’t respond to a question about tools for evaluating outcomes from recovery facilities but said it intends, over the next year, to hire more dedicated treatment and recovery centre investigators “who will be on the ground in communities, protecting vulnerable people and holding service operators accountable.”

Radu said it is high time for “oversight as to what are the statistics.” The public has a right to know, “How are the people doing that are coming out of these programs that people are spending 25, 26, $30,000 for?

“And that’s really where our government has failed.”

Before he died, Goodridge described his experience with treatment to Radu as feeling like a cycle of repeated treatment and relapse. Her son felt like it was a “cash grab,” Radu said, and the cost added to the shame he felt about treatment.

“He didn’t want us to give them another penny.”

For all the shame Goodridge might have felt about treatment, far greater, for Radu, is the hole he left behind. Each year, Radu and other family members mark his June 8 birthday with a series of rituals. They buy a cake for a stranger at a Victoria bakery — this year, it was for a girl celebrating her birthday on the same day — and they eat his favourite food: poutine.

And they gather on his favourite beach and skip rocks into the ocean. On each stone, they’ve written one of his finest qualities. Funny. Kind. Brave.  [Tyee]

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