In The News: Alberta brings in rules for treating alcoholism and drug addiction, enforced by fines up to $100,000

downloadThe province is preparing to regulate addiction treatment facilities and launch a college to oversee professionals who call themselves counsellors and therapists.

Legislation tabled Tuesday aims to ensure safe, competent care for Albertans searching for a therapist or addiction treatment centre, said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

Currently, there are no minimum standards for treatment centres, leading to about 35 complaints since 2012, according to the province. Complaints ranged from being unable to collect a refund to poor quality of care.

The changes will apply to mental health facilities aiming to treat conditions such as alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders. Programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous won’t be affected.

Fatality inquiry

A 17-year-old boy died at an addiction treatment centre in 2007 after drinking antifreeze. Taylor Argent had ingested what a doctor estimated to be three times the lethal dose of ethylene glycol while enrolled in a program.

Three years later, a public fatality inquiry found the staff were underqualified to deal with serious incidents. Staff were required to have completed a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and have first-aid training, according to the inquiry report.

The judge also said the province should outline minimum standards for treatment facilities and regulate licensing.

The Central Alberta Recovery Centre, located about 50 kilometres northeast of Red Deer, was later renamed Serenity Ranch. It’s now under the name iRecover Alberta.

Penalties up to $100,000 per day

The province said 65 per cent of clinical facilities in the province are privately operated, with about 5,000 unregulated practitioners who provide services. The new rules would initially apply to about 60 public and private residential addiction treatment facilities.

If passed, facilities will be able to apply for a four-year licence on July 1, and will need to have one in place by Nov. 1, 2019. Licensed facilities will then be posted on a government website.

The move will force treatment programs to follow rules such as reporting critical incidents, creating informed consent policies and maintaining appropriate records.

Inspectors will be able to enforce standards by issuing stop orders and administrative penalties up to $10,000 per day. Court-ordered fines will be limited to up to $100,000 per day.

Title protection

The Mental Health Services Protection Act would also launch a new self-funded regulatory college dubbed the College of Counselling Therapy.

That body could then determine everything from the scope of practice to treatment centre prices to the basic requirements needed to get a professional licence.

Professional titles will also be protected, and those who don’t have the appropriate credentials could be fined. This will apply to counselling therapists, addiction counsellors, drug and alcohol counsellors, and child and youth care counsellors.

The title of psychotherapist will also be protected, limiting its use to qualified counselling therapists, psychologists, physicians and surgeons.

Alberta is following the lead of other provinces including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec.

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