Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Gabrielle Plonka

A NON-PARTISAN INITIATIVE – The attempts to resurrect Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services is ‘not about partisan politics,’ says Frank Turner, the only ex-board member to attend Wednesday evening’s public meeting.

Efforts continue to resurrect Many Rivers

Several weeks after Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services closed its doors,

By Gabrielle Plonka on September 12, 2019

Several weeks after Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services closed its doors, a small group gathered early Wednesday evening to express hope for a resurgence.

“This is not about partisan politics,” said Frank Turner, the only ex-board member to attend. “It (Many Rivers) was so good, and that is the thing that’s so hurtful.”

Members of the Friends of Many Rivers society gathered at the Coast High Country Inn two weeks after the entire board resigned at a public meeting on Aug. 29.

Hope simmered among attendees for a reopening of the decades-old service, though Yukon government mental health funding has already been allocated elsewhere.

“We are all one life challenge away from needing such a (counselling) service),” one attendee said.

“This has been a support to anyone in the Yukon, regardless of your ability to pay or not, for 50 years.”

The attendee, who requested anonymity due to an association with the similarly halted Yukon Support and Distress Line, expressed concern about the government’s promise to fund alternative mental health programming.

On Aug. 23, the government pledged a new delivery model for counselling services through the Canadian Mental Health Association and All Genders Yukon Society.

“The hub might not work for a lot of reasons,” the attendee said.

The person pointed out that while five new counsellors have reportedly been hired on to the new counselling model, the maximum number of people treated will be fewer than the number treated by Many Rivers.

Many Rivers employed eight counsellors, the attendee said. Those three staff members equate to 75 appointments per week.

It was added that some people might not be willing to reach out to a government institution for counselling because they either work for or receive monetary support from the territory.

Some potential patients might be wary of disclosing information to the government. The attendee called this a “fear of Big Brother”.

On Aug. 30, Karen Chan, assistant deputy minister at the Department of Health and Social Services, told the Star her department feels confident it will provide the same level of counselling service as Many Rivers.

It was noted at the meeting there is still security patrolling the Many Rivers building on Fourth Avenue, guarding the client documentation remaining inside.

There was talk at the town hall of rallying support to re-open Many Rivers and investigate the debt.

“We have a responsibility as members of this community to challenge these decisions,” Turner said.

“There’s a lot of public money that’s gone somewhere to somebody.”

One attendee estimated a cost of approximately $40 per Yukoner to reopen the centre, based on seen financial documentation not available to the Star.

Loose plans were made between town hall attendees to put out a wider call for support in the coming weeks and to meet again.

“Closing (Many Rivers and replacing it with government services) is like cutting down a huge redwood, and planting a new tree, and expecting that tree to grow to the same size in a couple of years,” an attendee said. “It’s not the same.”

Comments (13)

Up 9 Down 1

Katie on Sep 16, 2019 at 4:47 pm

@ Max Mack

"I'm not defending the former ED. Just pointing out the blatant hypocrisy of a high-level government bureaucrat criticizing an NGO for offering a perk that is standard fare at GY."

That's an interesting perspective and thank goodness you aren't defending the former ED's spending. If viewed from your angle, one would think it's a good thing for professional development to be supported by the organizations, which, like you already pointed, might also be the case within YG / GY. It then piques my interest to understand if that kind of support would have been an expected expenditure geared towards improvement of MR leadership or an opportunist maneuver anchored on personal / self-interests? Even when a part of a strategic approach to service improvement, wouldn't the ED and the concerned thought of meeting this action half-way rather than fund the entire degree? I am just saying, from what the birds of air uttered, seemingly the previous board might have munched on a larger portion than acceptable in funding the ED's education,

Up 3 Down 1

Katie on Sep 16, 2019 at 4:25 pm

@ Yah, yah, yah...

You have a point here;
…"profoundly unethical to have government involved in counselling services given the governments function of regulating the relations between individuals and commerce. Then there is the necessity of image, of politics"...

"government systems perform any meaningful therapeutic services because they have mandates, procedures, and policies to follow... Then there are the supervisors who must by virtue of their existence justify their function and insert themselves through detached oversight"

I agree, however, I also believe it to be necessary for the government institutions and health centers to provide mental health services, only if these services were understood for what they are and the value they carry. Procedurally, governments do have such policies and mandates geared towards maintaining that political image as you've already said, but one would think health departments would push for effectiveness of their services, independent of the political aspect of the whole thing. You can't serve two masters at a time, unless people are open to living in a "pressure-cooker" of both innate and external conflict which still drags us back to square one - mental distress!

Thus, healthcare providers, particularly regulated clinicians are mandated per their professional regulations and standards of practice to provide these services independent of political influence. If they are well-versed in their responsibilities, then there would have to be a consensus between their side of service delivery and the political side. Confusing or mixing these two bodies has no fruit to bear. What am I saying? Healthcare providers ought to draw not only visible but tangible lines between heath services and politics, rendering such services a great resource even within governments. If the "higher-ups" haven't been marinated in healthcare practices and mandates, then those who have been can shed that light and firmly advocate for their services - I doubt anyone is happy not accomplishing their mission due to non-department a.k.a politics-related hurdles.

Up 5 Down 0

Katie on Sep 16, 2019 at 2:40 pm

Agreed! Revisiting this from a non-partisan perspective could help the Yukoners not only re-gain access to such valuable services which helped many of us to remain on our feet, but also to get answers pertaining to the funds unaccounted for.

The government as a funder is right in "demanding those answers" because we all need those answers. Its surprising that there is still …."rallying support to re-open Many Rivers and investigate the debt", you'd think this would have been a necessary step following closure? The new Board that was ready to take on the challenge of keeping these essential services running couldn't possibly have those answers, and to the Board which might have answers, why aren't we getting answers?
Instead of pinning down an essential service provider and re-allocating the funds, why not actively pursue "those answers" from the persons responsible? These funds are the taxpayer's investment, and it'd only prove unviable existence of the funder if such huge amounts remain unaccounted for, while the investors remain left in the cold to suffer the brutality of mental illness.
The government isn't an isolated existence, I don't know about you folks but from my standpoint we are the government because we pay taxes so we could collectively live. We hold the right to transparency and honesty regarding public funds and services. Even those entrusted with such challenging tasks (YG), are a part of us, they are public servants and should be supported in working to accomplish meaningful services to the Yukoners. They are also responsible for progressive and close monitoring of funds to avert such seemingly irresponsible use of public funds. Had the relevant personnel completed their part in routine auditing and managing, the loss of funds might have been curbed prematurely hence sustained services at Many Rivers.
Not only did Many Rivers provide very effective services, they also provided a productive training platform for Counselling students who complete their degrees from here at home, now that's an extra gap! Hopefully the Yukoners get the answers from the previous board and management (MR), and let justice prevail and get MR running again, it's extremely tough on us without MR.

Up 3 Down 1

Conradical on Sabbatical on Sep 16, 2019 at 1:14 pm

de Groucho - Measurement is not enough. You need to know exactly what you are measuring and why. What happens with YG is that it fails to operationally define the variables of interest while controlling for confounds. YG has no methodology and cannot know what it is doing or why it has done so.

YG is purely a function of political impulse and as such, and particularly so with Liberal ideologies, cannot sustain the methodological rigour to provide returns for your tax dollars.

Up 10 Down 4

Groucho d'North on Sep 15, 2019 at 1:45 pm

I would like to read both a financial audit and another one on the client benefits from the delivery of programs and services over the past 10 years.
These programs should cost a hefty bit of budget, but was the money spent wisely and appropriately?
Was there value for the clients of Many Rivers? Could they manage their lives better after their counselling or treatments?
Was there any bang for the bucks spent and was the managment on the right track for the mandate they had?
If you're not measuring- you're not managing.

Up 17 Down 2

Onlooker Lacks Vision on Sep 13, 2019 at 2:43 pm

@ Onlooker - You are confused and the infantile perspective you offer on the matter is commensurate with your apparent grasp of the situation - child-like.

This is not a YG and Many Rivers comparison of financial accountability but rather an analysis of the ethical concerns with having government as leader and as counsellor. If we are going to compare fiscal responsibility then it is quite clear that YG would lose, hands-down, any day of the week. Especially on this issue alone. This is because governments are incapable of seeing the big picture landscape let alone reacting to it. They cater to the unsound whimsy of political influence.

Again, if we look at it from an ethical point of view YG cannot even contest. This is true however of all governments. They have a mandate, policies and they have procedures. Counsellors, therapists and psychologists often fight government to work for the needs of the client rather than for policy compliance etc.

The Many Rivers fiasco should have been referred for criminal investigation. This was a choice that YG chose not to make .

Up 27 Down 7

Al on Sep 13, 2019 at 2:32 pm

I think what troubles me on this issue (I do not condone the financial issues of MR) and a few more that have occurred lately in YTG is more to do perhaps with "new" personnel in the department. Not that many years ago we had staff for the most part who were Yukoner's. These were folks who were familiar with the culture of the Yukon and the roles that were played in the community by folks and various NGO's. To some degree we did not perhaps have perfect solutions to everything but what we did have was ownership over what "we" chose to be found acceptable or not acceptable.

What I see now is that Yukoner's are not in charge of their own destiny anymore. More and more "senior" people employed in YTG are from "outside". They bring a culture and set of values that appears to be far different then we are use to in the Yukon. The manner in which we have seen the treatment of various organizations and policy initiatives has been found to be less desirable by many of us. Those that follow closely what goes on will know what I speak of without me going on ad nauseum on these issues. Their lack of sensitivity to "how we as a community come together and have found ways to work as a community" is lost on them. Because of this lack of being community conscious they instead charge in like a bull in china shop believing that all their experience from "outside" will work just fine here. It doesn't.

It would be easy to say we need to turn back the clock - that is not going to happen. However what we do need to do within YTG is employ more Yukoner's who are in tune with the community to find workable solutions so that we retain the ability to control our own future as we would like to see it unfold.

Up 17 Down 10

Max Mack on Sep 13, 2019 at 2:06 pm


Many Rivers contributed towards the ED's master's program. That is true.
But did you know that this is standard for higher level managers in YTG? Many managers in gov are given these perks - perks that are not available to the underclass.

Ask Samis if he is or has been enrolled in any executive or master's or PHd level programs on GY's dime. Ask GY how many DMs and other high-level managers have been enrolled in such programs over the last 10 years. One executive level, non-degree course at Queen's can cost $30,000 or more.

I'm not defending the former ED. Just pointing out the blatant hypocrisy of a high-level government bureaucrat criticizing an NGO for offering a perk that is standard fare at GY.

Up 13 Down 6

Capitan on Sep 13, 2019 at 1:00 pm

@Oya, you seem to have missed that there was a perceived risk that the new board members would be responsible for the debt at perhaps some personal cost. I believe there might have been some concern that YTG was not dealing with them in good faith. Since there is no money to run the organization, and no contracts, you have to wonder what exactly the new board could do. The board that recently resigned had no role in previous decisions.

@onlooker, Many Rivers has a 50-year history in the Yukon, a region much in need of mental health services. The staff was qualified and reputable. The value they provided can't be overstated. You didn't need to be referred, identify as a member of a particular group, be employed by government -- or employed at all -- and you paid what you could afford, even if that was nothing, to access professional, confidential, client-centered, counseling services. Services that helped transform the lives of many people.

Something does seem to have gone wrong in the past couple of years and perhaps unionizing was a response to some frustration about it. Staff can't do much about board decisions. Perhaps the increasing reliance on distance hires (i.e. people working at Many Rivers who lived in BC) had something to do with it.

But I would expect that processes would be in place at both the 50-year organization and YTG that would be robust enough to prevent the kind of meltdown that we're seeing. Instead, YTG has done that thing that we love to do in the Yukon -- don't renovate, build new! Even if the new, hastily-constructed, development might have a shortened life span.

You overstate the amount owed, I believe -- where did you get "half a million"? But then, the facts for this sorry episode are thin on the ground. I don't know why YTG thinks the two organizations that are now supposed to be replacing Many Rivers will not have problems. One seems to be headed by someone who I think was in high school a few short years ago. The other is out of YTG itself? Is that right? What do we know about how they will operate? Somehow, I'm not picturing the kind of access Many Rivers offered. In any case, both those organizations should be seriously considering efforts to support the attempts to revive Many Rivers.

I think this calls for an independent task force to investigate exactly what happened at Many Rivers and an outline for how it can be rebuilt. I'm not blaming any board member till it becomes clear what was going on. I am blaming YTG, who has all the resources and intellect they wanted to apply before it disintegrated, and chose to ignore it. Let's find out why.

Up 7 Down 3

Max Mack on Sep 12, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Agree with @Yah

Up 21 Down 7

onlooker on Sep 12, 2019 at 5:21 pm

C'mon - is anybody surprised this is where it ends? As an outsider, a group 1/2 million dollars in the hole, who over-paid for a European degree for a past ED, and was wacky enough to get therapists on the streets in protest, doesn't seem all that effective. Wonder why all the board members are now "ex" board members? YG stability looks good compared to the past 2 years of nutty messages, layoffs, walk-outs, picket lines, antics, and revelations that seem to come from this now-boring saga. The internal chaos of the MR affected the quality of support, then lead to the cessation, of therapy and assistance for many many people - including me. And, it was likely not a very healthy place to work.
If the service was so good and desperately needed - why didn't the MR exec and/or members take care of it as an organization? Haven't heard much in the way of owning the issue and integrity on that front. Yadda yadda - we know government messes things up - seems MR made just as big a mess, if not bigger.

Up 30 Down 6

Oya on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:58 pm

"We have a responsibility as a community to challenge these decisions. There's a lot of public money gone somewhere to somebody", said Turner.

Was that not your role as a member of the board to challenge those decisions and put forward the best business case for whatever goal the board was trying to achieve?
Why would you all quit en masse if you thought those decisions should be challenged?
And would you not have had much better access to inside information as a board member to try to find out where the public money went than now, as an ex-board member?
You had your chance; in fact I think perhaps it might even have been your duty as a board member to get to the bottom of it all - but you gave up that chance when you walked away. The board shirked its responsibilities by walking away.

And now here you stand calling on the public to do the work that was on your plate by choice, by virtue of your volunteering for the board. Wtf?

Up 39 Down 21

Yah, yah, yah on Sep 12, 2019 at 1:28 pm

YG’s approach to resolving this issue has been rather short-sighted and entirely self-interested. The absolute stupidity with which it has approached the Many Rivers crisis uncomprehendingly unfathomable.

You cannot have counsellors in government systems perform any meaningful therapeutic services because they have mandates, procedures, and policies to follow... Then there are the supervisors who must by virtue of their existence justify their function and insert themselves through detached oversight.

It is absolutely and profoundly unethical to have government involved in counselling services given the governments function of regulating the relations between individuals and commerce. Then there is the necessity of image, of politics... Yesterday we believed this today we do not because there is a change in leadership... Stability in YG is a huge concern - WTF!

If you only knew...

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