A man who was formerly a caseworker for The Mustard Seed street ministry says he objects to the dental clinic attached to the non-profit because, he says, it only offers dental care to people who are part of the Pure North S'Energy preventive health program.
About 21,000 people in Alberta and B.C. have signed on to the Pure North program, which gives participants a wide variety of high-dose vitamins and supplements, lifestyle counselling and dental care.
The seven-year-old program was founded by energy executive and Calgary Flames part-owner Allan Markin, who funds the program at a cost of $20 to $30 million annually. Pure North is now looking for provincial funding to expand its programs — an investment it says will save the province $500 million a year.
Pure North has partnered with a number of social agencies in Calgary, including by offering the dental clinic for the homeless at The Mustard Seed.
"What you would think is that Mustard Seed is now providing dental services to all of its clients. That's not the case," said Tom Mannix, who was a caseworker there until earlier this year. "The only people that can actually access that clinic have to be part of the Pure North program."
Until recently, all of Pure North’s services were free except for some shipping and handling charges. Now “vulnerable populations” such as the homeless and low-income seniors continue to receive the supplements, dental care and counselling for free. Other participants pay on a cost-recovery basis.
Mannix said the dental work should be no strings attached.
"What I would appreciate is if [Markin] would come into The Mustard Seed shelter, or any shelter for that matter, and just say, 'Alright guys or girls, who here needs dental work done? I have a facility that's located in the basement of The Mustard Seed, you guys are in obvious need and I have a ton of money and I want to be able to help you out.'"
Mannix said he understands that many people feel ignored for by the traditional health-care system, but that doesn't ease his concerns about Pure North. "[The clients] are very vulnerable and they're easy to take advantage of, is my concern," he said. "I don't know what they're doing with the [blood] samples. [Pure North's] consent is very long and extensive and a lot of the folks that we work with, they don't have a lot of education ... Some of them have literacy issues and have no idea what they're signing up for."
Mannix also said that, when The Mustard Seed was serving lunches, he saw a nurse from Pure North strongly encouraging each person to to take Vitamin D with their meal — upwards of 20 drops directly on the food, he said.
"Almost, 'Would you like salt and pepper and have a little Vitamin D with that?' "
Some would have known what they were taking because of information sessions, but others probably didn't know what Vitamin D was.
Many participants of Pure North have told CBC News the program has improved their health and sense of well being.