Commentary: Choose people over paperwork

Frank Turner

The following is an open letter to Stephen Samis, deputy minister of the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services:

I am writing directly to you in regards to the forced closure of the Many Rivers counselling services. And I use the term “forced closure” for a reason.

Many Rivers served the mental health needs of Yukoners honourably and effectively for the better part of 50 years. As a non-governmental organization, Many Rivers was operated by a volunteer board very successfully for many decades.

The closure of Many Rivers was due to a failure of leadership, not just of the past management and board of Many Rivers but also by you, sir.

Things did not need to play out the way they did.

For example, why were you focused on the cost over-run for snow removal? You were well aware that this was attributable to the board and management in place prior to April 26, 2019.

This was just one among a litany of issues cited in your Aug. 9 letter to the Many Rivers board members, who have all since resigned. Your letter did not focus – not even once – on the impact that Many Rivers has had on Yukoners. And that was the straw that broke the back of this volunteer board.

One small piece of advice: support volunteers in the community, especially when they are making serious, sustained, and verifiable efforts to make a difference for Yukoners.

Why were you not focused on the value of counselling services provided to meet the acute and long-term needs of Yukoners?

The loss of those services has caused irreparable harm to Yukoners who were already dealing with difficult issues.

Why did you initiate only an administrative audit? Why did you choose to request an audit that does not cover fraud or illegal acts?

As per the health department’s report: “As noted in our report, the procedures we performed do not constitute an audit of the financial information and accordingly, no assurance is expressed. As well, as noted in the report, we cannot guarantee that fraud, error or illegal acts if present, would have been detected when we performed the requested procedures.”

This is an absolute and abject failure to provide genuine oversight – you did not get answers to the most important questions. And could you please inform the Yukon public how much this “administrative audit” cost Yukon taxpayers?

Your department had fiduciary responsibility to provide oversight. What did your department do to ensure that $2.3 million of taxpayer money was being used properly and duly accounted for?

How did you monitor annual reports and audits – over the last five and six years – to ensure that the board and management were operating and spending appropriately?

There were numerous reports that something was terribly wrong at the board and management level. What did your department do to follow up on those reports? You should be able to provide a clear and concise narrative of how you were proactive in addressing issues, rather than the reactive position you are taking now.

Why were additional funds released to the board when annual reports were not submitted and the organization was not in good standing? What is needed now is a clear and concise narrative, detailing how you were proactive (rather than reactive) in dealing with these matters.

A brand new, voluntary board, with no administrative support, was able to hold the necessary meetings and submit the necessary reports within just three months. That the previous Board was unable to do that, even with the help of paid management, should have been a clear signal to you – something was very wrong.

Once you finally decided to request an audit, why did you limit the scope of that audit? What will you do to correct the inadequacy of that report?

Finally, what will you do to recognize and address the articulated needs of many former Many Rivers clients?

Your department deemed it “not worth it” to consider the quality of actual services that were provided in spite of the dysfunction of the past Management and Board – why? And how will you repair the damage done by that failure?

There is a lot more that could be included here – and may need to be raised in the future. Good leaders recognize the importance of fairness – in that spirit, we ask that you start addressing the issues raised here.

Get Many Rivers going again. We actually have the counselling capacity, as well as a highly experienced Executive Director, ready to start providing services again, with your support.

Frank Turner is one of the former board members for Many Rivers who recently resigned.

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