UVic sells public building to private addiction services company

Ontario-based Homewood Health plans to open a mental health and addictions treatment centre for up to 90 people in former UVic conference centre.

New facility needed, but won't help shortage of publicly funded treatment on Vancouver Island

The Dunsmuir Lodge property was donated to the University of Victoria. It was used as an educational conference centre until it was closed 2009. (University of Victoria)

The University of Victoria's Dunsmuir Lodge is returning to its original use as an addictions treatment centre, but patients will have to pay out of pocket for services at the new private facility.

Ontario-based Homewood Health has a conditional agreement to purchase the North Saanich property. It operated as a treatment centre before it was donated to the university in 1985 for use as an educational conference centre.

"There's very, very long wait lists for mental health and addiction services across the country. British Columbia is not any exception," said Jagoda Pike, president and CEO for Homewood Health.

The property was attractive because it will require limited renovations to re-open as a treatment facility for up to 90 people and could be ready by the spring of 2017, Pike said.

Homewood Health operates a number of private treatment facilities and clinics across the country where patients, employers or insurance companies pay for the services. 

The company does provide some publicly funded services in Ontario, but Pike said that is not part of the current business plan for the Victoria-area facility.

Lack of public services

Additional addictions and mental health services are always welcome, but the new facility won't solve a desperate shortage of publicly funded options on Vancouver Island, said Gordon Harper, executive director of the Umbrella Society outreach organization.

The island is already home to several private treatment centres, but those who can't afford the services usually have to travel to public facilities in other parts of the province, Harper said.

"It's very likely going to be private sector treatment and thus expensive and out of the price range of many people who would benefit," he said.

UVic said the sale fits with the spirit of the original donation of the property because partnerships with Homewood Health will provide educational opportunities for students and researchers.

"They employ social workers and other professionals in areas that we provide training programs. We've talked about the potential for practicums where our students would go up there and get experience," said Gayle Gorrill, vice-president of finance and operations for UVic.

The sale still requires approval by the Ministry of Advanced Education and municipal approvals for rezoning.

The university has not yet disclosed the purchase price, but said it has an assessed value of $7.6 million. Proceeds from the sale will be used to pay for a new athletic centre at UVic.

A 75-acre tract of woodland is not part of the sale agreement. UVic is continuing discussions with the Pauquachin First Nation regarding that part of the property.