British Columbia

Will new rules lead to closures of 'shady' recovery homes?

There wasn’t much recovery happening in many of the recovery homes Ron Moloughney has lived in.

New provincial regulations aim to fix decade-old problem of unregulated recovery homes in Surrey

Maggie Plett holds a picture of her deceased son, Zachary Plett, on her front steps in Surrey on Wednesday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

There wasn't much recovery happening in many of the recovery homes Ron Moloughney has lived in.

He's seen it all — shady operators profiting from vulnerable clients, filthy conditions and clueless counsellors.

"The staff had no qualifications," he said. "That's sad."

Moloughney, 58, moved into Back on Track Recovery in March and says it's one of the best facilities he's seen.

When the owners ran into a licensing issue, he worried dozens of people, including himself, would have nowhere to go.

"A lot of them would probably end up back on the street," he said. "I would have probably ended up in some kind of shady house."

Robynn Poynter, who co-owns Back on Track, says Moloughney and the rest of her clients were relieved earlier this month when the problem was resolved.

"It was a scary time," she said. "We were in a really dark place."

Moloughney says it's frustrating to see "glorified flophouses" operate while Back on Track was nearly forced to close.

He hopes new provincial rules will change the way the entire industry is regulated.

Ron Moloughney sits in the living room of his home at Back on Track Recovery in Surrey. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Cap of 55

It's estimated between 200 and 250 facilities were operating in Surrey at one point, which prompted the city to cap its number of recovery homes at 55.

The city can control the cap by issuing and revoking business licences, but regulating recovery homes is up to the province's Assisted Living Registry, or ALR.

Maggie Plett — whose 21-year-old son Zachary died of an overdose while he was living at a Surrey recovery home in December — says the ALR has been a failure.

"Where my son died was deplorable," she said. "Nobody should live in squalor."

Plett says when she visited her son's room after his death, there was mould on his sheets and another client was wearing Zachary's shoes.

The coroner told her that Zachary died sometime between 9 a.m. and noon on December 15, 2018.

His body was discovered several hours later.

"I was appalled by the conditions," Maggie Plett said. "Who lives like that?"

Gord Rutherford, left, and Maggie Plett sit on their front steps while holding a picture of Maggie’s deceased son. Zachary Plett died in December while he was living at a recovery house. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

New rules

B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says new rules — including training for recovery home staff and mandatory personal care plans for each resident — will help prevent heartbreaking stories like Plett's.

"It was like the Wild West without anyone really paying close attention to the care of service people were getting," she said.

"We've changed those regulations and made them a lot tougher."

Under the old rules, the ALR had to give operators 30 days notice of an inspection but Darcy says inspectors can now follow up on complaints immediately.

Also, the daily funding licensed operators receive per client will increase to $35.90 from $30.90.

Realistic Success Recovery Society Executive Director Susan Sanderson wants the city of Surrey, B.C. to raise its cap of 55 recovery homes. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

What about Surrey?

Susan Sanderson, who operates three recovery homes in Surrey, says there is a need for more recovery beds but the city's cap prevents her from opening a fourth location.

"Ten men who want to change their lives will be denied that opportunity because of an arbitrary number that has been picked out of the air," she said. 

"We already have the most recovery houses in the province, so let's be proud of that and work with them."

Surrey General Manager of Corporate Services Rob Costanzo says the province's new rules could allow the city's reputable recovery homes to expand.

"If the new regulations result in a number of facilities closing down, then there will be capacity for new facilities to operate, provided they receive ALR approval," he said in an emailed statement.

"The city is not contemplating increasing its 55 facility cap at this time."