Royal Ottawa lays off team of addictions counsellors, says union

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre is laying off all of the addiction counsellors who work in one of its substance abuse programs, according to the union representing those employees.

Will be replaced with psychologists, social workers and nurses

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre on Carling Avenue. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre is replacing a team of addictions counsellors in one of its substance abuse programs with psychologists and social workers, according to the union representing those employees.

The decision affects five full-time and two part-time counsellors, as well as seven casual employees, all with the Royal's in-patient substance abuse and concurrent disorders program, according to a statement by Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 479.

OPSEU Local 479 president Marlene Rivier said in the statement that she was "dismayed" by news of the impending layoffs.

"We are deeply dismayed that the Royal has decided to put the livelihoods of these workers and the treatment of their patients in jeopardy," Rivier said.

The union had been in talks to prevent the layoffs, said Rivier, but its proposals were rejected.

Treatment program 'very specialized' 

Nicole Loreto, vice-president of communications at the Royal, told CBC News that due to the complex health needs of the clients who use the program, the addictions counsellor positions were being "converted" to positions for psychologists, social workers and nurses.

According to the Royal's website, the substance abuse and concurrent disorders program offers help to patients with "complex substance use, mental health and physical health issues," including medical detoxification for people with addictions to alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines.

"This type of program is very specialized, in order to be able to help them deal with severe and complex substance abuse — and their mental health," Loreto said.

The affected addictions counsellors could find themselves in other positions at the Royal, Loreto said.