For Immediate Release Thursday October 24, 2019
BC New Democrats Fail to Deliver on Mental Health Funding for mid-Vancouver Island
The mental health needs of Vancouver Island communities outside the capital region have been treated with indifference by Premier John Horgan’s government. Island Integrated Counselling, one of the largest non-profit providers of affordable and subsidized counselling services on Vancouver Island, with 10 therapists available to meet the counselling needs of mid-Island residents, has been refused any funding from the B.C. government’s $10 million Community Action Initiative program for Community Counselling.
Earl Blacklock, the Executive Director of Island Integrated Counselling, said “There were two principal criteria for the funding – to have qualified professional therapeutic counsellors providing therapeutic counselling services, and to have the capacity to expand to deliver services in other parts of the serviced area. We are the only agency that meets these criteria in this region, and we have demonstrated that capacity by more than doubling our staff and by expanding to Oceanside and the Comox Valley in only one year.” Island Integrated Counselling is one of the longest serving non-profit mental health providers in British Columbia, with more than 21 years of service to the people of Nanaimo and surrounding communities.
“We serve hundreds of clients each year who require subsidized care, and the Horgan government cuts mean we will no longer have the means to serve more than a third of them,” Blacklock explained. “We have been lobbying the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions for more than a year, explaining our need for additional funding to help meet the growing needs of the communities we serve, and we were assured that this new program would address those concerns. In this, we were misled.”
In the past, subsidies for care offered by the agency came from Gaming Fund grants, but those funds have been declining for a number of years, with the past year’s $25,000 in funding being the lowest ever received. “To meet the needs of our Nanaimo clients alone, we require more than $100,000 in funding annually,” Blacklock said. “We have survived to this point because of donated professional counselling services, but these were intended as interim measures to bridge the agency to a more sustainable funding model.”
While other non-profit agencies on Vancouver Island offer counselling services, only Island Integrated Counselling has made individual and group counselling provided by professional trained therapists its sole focus in mid-Island communities. Ours is the only agency in the region with the capacity to offer a full range of therapeutic counselling services with continuity of care and no wait list. “Our funding needs are not based on future plans to meet mental wellness needs of our communities. We are doing that already, to the benefit of hundreds of members of the communities we serve,” Blacklock said. “We need additional resources to help us deal with the doubling of our client base at a time of declining government funding. The need far outstrips the resources this government provides, and this indefensible decision will only make an unsustainable situation worse.”
The agency must now take the following immediate measures to survive:
- Plans already well underway to expand our services to a second more accessible Nanaimo location, as well as to offer subsidized counselling services in Tofino, Campbell River, Duncan, and Salt Spring Island, must now be delayed or cancelled. Our plan to begin providing services in the Comox Valley and the Islands off Vancouver Island’s east coast is being revised.
- A number of our clients receive full subsidy, unable to pay anything for their counselling, while others pay a significantly reduced amount, depending on their income. These clients, two thirds of our total, will receive two more sessions at the heavily subsidized rate, after which they will be required to pay a minimum of $35 per session to be seen by a practicum student and $60 per session to be seen by a registered therapist. It is projected that this will mean more than 50 current clients will be unable to continue counselling services in the short term, and over the course of each year, more than 200 will be unable to access affordable counselling services from our agency.
- Outside of Island Health, Island Integrated Counselling is the only provider of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) on Vancouver Island. DBT is the gold standard treatment for suicidality and Borderline Personality Disorder and a proven treatment for other complex mental health issues such as PTSD, trauma-related challenges, and dependence on drugs, alcohol, and substances. DBT groups will continue to be offered on a no-fee basis while we await word on whether the increased funding for DBT requested from the Gaming Fund is approved, but the individual component of DBT therapy will be based on the new minimum fees. Most damaging will be the effect on our DBT program for adolescents, which can now be offered only if our minimum cost of $1,200 per client ($60 x 20 sessions) can be recovered from the families of adolescents suffering from suicidality and other serious mental health challenges. Island Health’s waiting lists for DBT therapy grow longer every day.
Despite these measures, reliance on unpredictable Gaming Fund funding is not a sustainable funding model, and it is likely the Horgan government’s decision to not fund our agency will lead to our closure if the government continues to fail to take seriously mental health needs on Vancouver Island. At particular risk are those whose lives have been so disrupted by their mental health challenges that they are unable to meet their own needs for income, housing, and health.
Island Integrated Counselling calls on our Member of the Legislative Assembly, Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson, to fight much harder for her constituents’ mental health needs by demanding that her government commit to a sustainable funding model for our agency.
For further information, please contact:
Earl Blacklock, MALM, MDIV, MC
Vancouver Island Integrated Counselling
and Community Services Society
o/a Island Integrated Counselling
#306 285 Prideaux Street, Nanaimo, BC V9R 2L2
129 Alberni Highway, Parksville, BC
250-954-7150 (voice and text)
250-716-8888 (office and messages)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. There were 190 applications for this funding program, and only a fraction of that number could be given funding. Why call into question the decisions made just because you weren’t successful?
A. This funding program was ostensibly in response to the need identified by Island Integrated Counselling, and agencies similar in mandate and purpose to IIC, for sustainable resources needed to meet the mental health needs of our communities. Our principal focus is on those facing interminable waits for mental health assistance from their local health authorities, people who can’t normally afford private care because their mental health has affected their ability to be healthy, housed, and employed. There are fewer than 30 such agencies in the province, including IIC, and the Community Counselling program was adequately funded to provide funding for each non-profit counselling agency in the province. The failure to fund Island Integrated Counselling means either that money was clawed back from the program or agencies that did not initially qualify were given funding.
UPDATE: We now know that NONE of the agencies which were ostensibly to be the beneficiaries of this program – agencies offering professional therapeutic counselling services to the communities in which they are located and to which they have plans to expand – none of them received funding. Not a single one. As a result, our agency now has a three month waiting list for those unable to afford the $60 minimum charge for certified / registered counsellors and $35 minimum charge for practicum students. Before, we had no waiting list. Other agencies have also been hit hard. Pacific Centre Family Services Association in Victoria indicated to CTV News that they now expect their waiting list to grow to as much as seven months due to the funding crisis.
Who got the money, then? Some were worthy organizations, doing good work, but few met the program requirements. Less than half offered professional counselling services, a program requirements. Almost none had demonstrated a capacity to scale their counselling services, another program requirement. And no agency provided funding on Vancouver Island did what Island Integrated Counselling does – welcome all those needing help with mental health issues, regardless of who they are or what issue they present with. One provides service to Salt Spring Island only, despite the proximity of the Island to counselling agencies in the capital region. One provides services to sex workers and former sex workers in the capital. One is targeted to immigrants, to an agency that is already receiving significant funding from provincial and federal sources for that purpose. And two were given to Indigenous-run agencies, ensuring that more than 50% of the grants under the program were provided to Indigenous agencies. None offered dialectical behavioural therapy.
In short, the $10 million that was diverted from the agencies on the front line, backstopping the overloaded health care system, will help dozens of people. Properly allocated, it would have helped thousands.
Why would the government allocate the money in this manner? There is little question that political considerations, so close to an election, plays a major role. They chose an unaccountable body to ostensibly make the decisions, ensuring there would be little scrutiny of the process used.
Q. What were the requirements for funding under the program?
A. Recipients were required to be a non-profit community counselling agency employing certified or registered professional counsellors with the demonstrated potential to broaden their reach beyond their base.
Q. There are non-profit counselling agencies on Vancouver Island that provide counselling services to the public. There are also mental health agencies such as CMHA that deliver mental health services. Why do you claim to be the only qualifying agency outside the capital region?
A. CMHA does great work, but they do not currently provide community counselling services as one of their emphases on Vancouver Island. An organization such as SOS in Oceanside provides subsidies for counselling, not direct professional counselling. Nanaimo Family Life Association and others train unregistered, uncertified counsellors to offer peer counselling, which is not the focus of this funding. Organizations such as Upper Island Counselling and Vancouver Island Counselling have as their principal focus the delivery of employee counselling services for the employers they serve, with community counselling secondary to their mission. Others such as AVI have a narrow focus, serving a targeted clientele. Only Island Integrated Counselling is a community counselling agency operating on Vancouver Island outside the capital region that has demonstrated its ability to scale its services to serve unserved and underserved Vancouver Island communities.
Q. Why is it important that funding recipients employ certified or registered professional counsellors?
A. There are numerous agencies that provide counselling for a variety of issues, but most of these do not use certified or registered professional counsellors for the majority of this counselling. Some agencies that use professional counsellors are set up on a model where they rely on income from employers to provide all or most of their revenue, and their first priority is to meet employer rather than community needs. The best use of this limited funding is to fund agencies like IIC which have as their sole focus the meeting of community needs, using certified or registered professional counsellors. Island Integrated Counselling has one of the highest number of certified or registered professional counsellors of any non-profit counselling agency on Vancouver Island.
Q. Not all of Island Integrated Counselling’s counsellors are certified or registered. What role would those who do not have certification or registration have played in your services had you received this funding?
A. None of the funds from this funding would have been used to subsidize care by non-certified or non-registered therapists. However, our practicum students, who are nearing completion of their training, give us the ability to target particular needs with a student’s particular skills. Our sole unregistered therapist has substantial experience in dealing with anger management and the offering of group training. We will always develop therapists with skills and training needed by our clients so that we are able to continue to meet the needs of our communities. By using this approach, in the past 15 months we have doubled our number of registered and certified therapists and tripled the number of practicum students providing care for our clients.