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Storm over Patricia House

NGOs want board of Gov't-funded drug rehab sacked

BY NADINE WILSON Observer staff reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2012    

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CONTROVERSY is rocking the Government-funded drug rehabilitiation centre Patricia House, with public calls being made for the resignation of its board of directors.

Yesterday, more than 15 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) joined forces with the Civil Society Forum of Jamaica on HIV and AIDS to demand the termination of the board of Richmond Fellowship Jamaica (RFJ) — the charity organisation that operates the drug treatment facility.

The group cited what it said was a consistent failure of the current board to protect the rights and welfare of staff and clients — including HIV/AIDS patients — at the residential facility for drug users.

During a press conference yesterday at the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) Centre off South Camp Road in Kingston, the NGOs cited a number of issues they claimed prove the incompetence of the current board.

They were particularly peeved at what they said was poor oversight by the board in appointing a former manager who they feel was unqualified for the position.

"We found out then that they were aware of the matter from March 2011. We made telephone calls to three different members of the board, we wrote to the chair on more than one occasion, and nothing was done until we brought the matter to the press," said chairman of Civil Society Forum of Jamaica on HIV and AIDS, Carla Bingham-Ledgister.

Also of concern, were reports of sexual harassment at the facility by at least one member of staff, which they said had been ignored. The group also aired concerns about funding for the facility and how some staff members were paid. Poor communication between the staff and the board was also a concern.

Patricia House was conceptualised by the London-based mental health charity Richmond Fellowship International, but was registered under Richmond Fellowship Jamaica in 1988 to meet the demand for the treatment of drug addicts locally. The initiative was a collaborative effort which saw the Government partnering with the European Union to set up the 24-bed residential facility. However, the Jamaican Government became a major financier of the facility in 1992 and now funds it through the National Council on Drug Abuse.

Manager for Patricia House, Howard Gough, who was also a part of yesterday's coalition, conveyed his dissatisfaction with the current board members and expressed concern for the facility's staff and clients.

"I would like to say to you that the present therapeutic environment of Patricia House has been destroyed," said Gough, who has been the manager since 1994.

He said he went on a year's study leave in 2011, during which time his recommendations for an interim manager were ignored, and another person was hired by the board instead. Much controversy surrounded the appointment and tenure of this new manager, which culminated with his being terminated in July last year.

Copies of letters of complaint sent to RFJ chairman Dr Charles Thesiger were shown to the media yesterday. These letters were allegedly sent by current and past clients of the facility, as well as from the Civil Society Forum of Jamaica and Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL).

When contacted yesterday, Dr Thesiger said he was unable to comment since he had assured Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson — following a meeting he had with him last Thursday — that he would not speak to the media.

"I have already met with the minister and the ministry about the matter and I have, in fact, told the minister and the ministry that I would be giving no interviews to any media house on this matter," he told the Observer.

"I have great concern for the client and because I have also told the minister that I would not be giving an interview, my lips are sealed for the time being," he said.

When contacted, the health minister said he was surprised that the matter had been made public since he had met with the parties and the agreement was for media silence.

However, he refrained from saying what the Government's next move would be, stating only that he would have to further review the matter, but noted that the Government cannot fire or hire the board since the facility is a limited liability company.

Executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) Ian McKnight, who was also at yesterday's meeting, said the groups intend to continue to lobby for the dismissal of the board members until their demands are met.

"We have organised a slate of activities and we are not going to back down; this is just the first. We are very concerned that this is ultimately affecting our clients and this cannot continue," he said.

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