British Columbia·GO PUBLIC

Women Into Healing paid $19K by family for daughter's failed drug treatment

Several families with drug-addicted daughters say they want their money back from an unregulated treatment centre they claim did not deliver the help it promised.

Centre director Norma Jean Neufeld calls allegations 'false and defamatory'

Kerrie Walter of Calgary sought drug addiction treatment at Women Into Healing in Maple Ridge, B.C., after she tried to kill herself last year. She was kicked out of the program about a month later. (CBC)

Several families of addicts are calling for regulation of treatment facilities after paying tens of thousands of dollars for treatment they say they didn't receive.

Kerrie Walter says she's been addicted to everything from cocaine to prescription drugs at different times in her life, but the turning point came last April when she tried to kill herself.

"I felt at this point in my life there was no other way out," Walter told Go Public.

Jacqueline Walter, Kerrie's mother, was devastated.

"I said, 'Enough — we can't do this anymore — you need to get some help.'"

In June, the family looked online for a treatment centre and settled on the Maple Ridge, B.C., facility Women Into Healing. Jacqueline Walter says their first impressions were mostly good, and director Norma Jean Neufeld seemed ready to help. 

"I wanted to trust her, and when I left my daughter there, I had the belief that things would go well," she said.

$19K for 60 days of treatment

She paid the centre $19,000 for 60 days of addiction counselling and treatment, and says the problems started almost immediately.

Neufeld promised Kerrie Walter's mother she would be there around the clock to personally see her daughter through the detox process.

But the family claims Kerrie was left overnight with what the centre calls a "house mom." 

Go Public asked Women Into Healing what qualifications staff members have. We were told the entire staff are recovering addicts who are better equipped than most to help people struggling with addiction.

The centre later added that staff members must have been clean for at least two years and undergo testing to ensure compliance.

Women Into Healing's manager, Susie Golemba, is an alcohol and drug counsellor certified by the Canadian Addictions Counsellors Certification Federation. She joined the centre after Kerrie Walter left.

The centre says if a client needs medical attention they are taken to a clinic.

Kerrie Walter's mother Jacqueline says counselling appointments at Women Into Healing were often delayed or cancelled for no reason. (CBC)

Experts recommend, as a minimum, a nurse be present during detox. Medical detoxes require a physician since there is risk of seizure, and in some cases withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.

On its website, Women Into Healing does not claim to be a medical detox facility.

The Walter family claim the centre failed to deliver on other promises. They say counselling appointments were often delayed or cancelled for no reason and there were issues with food quality. 

Almost a month after she arrived, Kerrie Walter was kicked out of the program. She says it was because she raised concerns about the treatment she was getting.

Neufeld says Walter was asked to leave because she failed to follow centre rules and didn't want to participate in treatment.

More families unhappy

Two other Canadian families have joined the Walters in their fight get their money back from Women Into Healing.

Go Public spoke with members of both families, who say they too paid $19,000 for 60 days of treatment. They asked us not to identify their daughters for fear their reputations and employment could be jeopardized.

In one case, a young woman says she was also kicked out after about a month with no refund, after complaining about the care she was receiving.

In legal correspondence to Women Into Healing, her family claims she didn't get the individual counselling that was promised on the centre's website. That woman also alleges there was regularly not enough food or a lack of nutritious food.

The other woman told Go Public she left on her own after she didn't get "adequate counselling."

All the families we spoke with are trying to get their money back.

Centre named in lawsuits

Go Public also uncovered lawsuits naming Neufeld and Women Into Healing. The court documents show two other families filed lawsuits in an attempt to get their money back.

Women Into Healing Treatment Centre is based in Maple Ridge, B.C. (CBC)

One of the families told Go Public that in July 2012, about $18,000 was paid for 60 days of treatment, and later were told by Neufeld their daughter required an additional 30 days for an extra $10,000.

The family claim their daughter was "wrongly discharged" after 47 days at the centre. Their claim settled out of court.

The second lawsuit alleges a client was asked to sign a contract in June 2013 upon arriving at the centre, waiving her right to a refund, while "still under the influence of cocaine and opiates."

Women Into Healing has denied the allegation, and later told the CBC the woman was given an overnight stay to "sober up" before reviewing and signing the agreement.

In 2010, Neufeld agreed to settle a small claims case in Port Coquitlam, B.C., agreeing to pay a family a total of $10,766 — after that woman was told to leave treatment due to "repeated contravention of house rules."

After that 2010 settlement, the centre implemented a "no refunds" policy.

Manager defends centre

Neufeld invited Go Public to the centre to see what goes on there. She said Women Into Healing has done nothing wrong.

Women Into Healing director Norma Jean Neufeld says her facility has helped hundreds of women. (CBC)

She called the allegations "false and defamatory" and said the families making the claims are demanding refunds even though they signed documents knowing the centre has a no refund policy.

"The people who come to us who want to get better, we have something to work with," Neufeld told Go Public.

"We go by very strict policies and procedures, so if clients aren't willing to follow the policies and procedures of our centre, and jeopardize the safety of the centre, they will be discharged and they will be discharged without a refund … at some point these clients need to be accountable." 

Neufeld says her facility has helped hundreds of women. While at the centre, Go Public was able to speak with five women who are now receiving treatment there.

They tell us they are very happy with the centre and say they are receiving nutritious food, daily one-on-one counselling, as well as group meetings, yoga and more.

Countrywide problem, says expert

Tom Gabriel, president of the Canadian Addictions Counsellors Certification Federation, says this issue is bigger than a dispute between clients and one treatment centre in one province.

He says there is a lack of rules and oversight for private addiction treatment centres across the country.

"Herein lies the problem. It's not regulated by law — it's a bit of a loophole in law," Gabriel told Go Public.

Tom Gabriel, president of the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation, says the problem is that anyone can call themselves an alcohol and drug counsellor. (CBC)

"As it currently stands, anyone can hang up a shingle anywhere in Canada and can call themselves an alcohol and drug counsellor or addictions counsellor … and there is no regulatory authority preventing you from doing that."

Public treatment centres that get government money have to follow provincial laws. But wait lists are often months long to get into those facilities. 

Gabriel says the federation is working with provincial governments to get more regulation and oversight for addiction centres. He says some provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan are close, but other provinces are lagging behind.

"One of the slogans we often use is: Why is it your mechanic is certified to work on your car and your addictions counsellor isn't?"

B.C.'s Ministry of Health is in the process of registering the province's treatment centres. 


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Corrections

  • This story has been updated to include a response from Women Into Healing to the allegation that a woman was asked to sign a contract while she was on drugs. ​A previous version of this​ story referred to court documents regarding a former resident's concerns about counselling when in fact these concerns were contained in legal correspondence. The earlier version also referenced a lawsuit by another family being abandoned due to high legal fees. In fact, the claim was settled out of court. Women Into Healing contacted CBC after publication to say that staff who are recovering addicts must undergo testing to ensure they have been clean and sober for at least two years.
    Jun 24, 2015 12:39 PM PT

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