Several weeks after learning that Vancouver Coastal Health would not pay for non-clinical services at the Rainier Hotel, the non-profit that runs the treatment centre is mounting its second public protest.
The Portland Hotel Society is planning a Right to Recovery Walk on Tuesday, Dec. 18. Mark Townsend, director of the PHS, said they plan to walk with 40 coffins. The first protest occurred last Tuesday.
"The sad, depressing joke of this is, you know, in the Wally Oppal report, you're going to read how they need these services and at the same time rather than have these services, they've added to the bloated budget of their outreach team," said Townsend, referring to the report on the Missing Women inquiry released Monday.
The Downtown Eastside treatment centre launched in 2009, and its initial operating costs were covered through one-time funding of $5 million from Health Canada.
Anna Marie D'Angelo, the VCH spokesperson, said funding was set to end in November 2012 when the federal money ran out, and the news should have come as no surprise.
"The pilot program is over so we're transitioning into our services and this has always been planned from the beginning," D'Angelo said, adding that the most important aspects of the program - access to medical services and safe housing - will remain the same.
Some aspects, such as food support, will continue during the transition period until Jan. 6, when any services that aren't medical will end completely.
After that, VCH expects the 41 residents to access services from other organizations in the Downtown Eastside.
Townsend said the move "cuts the heart and soul" of the place, leaving the Rainier a glorified single-residency hotel and not a true treatment and recovery centre.
"It wasn't a pilot. It was one of those things where each partner puts something on the table," Townsend said. "In black in white, in the original press release that was signed off by the minister, what it says is Health Canada is providing funding for operational costs for four years. The ongoing operational costs are to be covered by Vancouver Coast Health."
VCH maintains that programs like arts therapy, communal lunches or support groups don't fall under its mandate for health care spending.
Townsend said they should be covered.
"A treatment centre is not some doctor and a nurse that comes in every so often," said Townsend, adding that the $750,000 it would cost to keep elements of the program that help lead the women from addiction is money well spent.
Discontinued programming includes grief and loss counselling, meditation groups, nutrition consultation, communal meals, outings, job and financial training, and one-on-one counselling with staff.
After the story first ran in the Courier, VCH submitted a letter to the editor, which said that aspects of the Rainier program did not work. Townsend said he has asked for clarification but has not received specific examples.
D'Angelo didn't say what was problematic in the current care. "We do know what worked was the housing piece and the clinical things. As the health authority, we pay for health care," adding that medical support will be enhanced by adding a mental health worker and psychiatrist in the new year.