UCP closing Lethbridge safe consumption site following financial audit

By Catherine Griwkowsky July 17, 2020

Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan is shutting down Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site, ARCHES, after an audit turned up more than $1.6 million in financial irregularities.
An audit of ARCHES, ordered on March 4 and conducted by Deloitte, revealed thousands of dollars in questionable expenditures and a complete lack of records for others.
“It is disturbing and extremely disappointing to me that taxpayer funds allocated to this organization in order to serve the most vulnerable in Lethbridge would be used for European conferences, expenses for retreats, entertainment and gift cards,” Luan said.
The province will set up a temporary mobile overdose prevention clinic in Lethbridge and has hired three recovery coaches as part of a shift towards the UCPs “continuum of care” model for treating addiction.
The audit found $1,617,094 in unaccounted for expenditures from 2017 to 2018, unauthorized overtime and salary hikes, and a lack of proper protections from conflict of interest.
Some of the findings of the audit included:

  • $342,943 in compensation for a senior executive’s compensation in 2019 — including $70,672 in overtime in 2019-20 — when the the agreed salary was $80,000;

  • $2,100 in gift cards purchased for a company owned by a senior executive’s spouse;

  • $9,900 in wages for a family member of a senior executive whose resume or personnel file could not be located by auditors; 

  • $1,617,094 in expenses unaccounted for due to missing documentation from 2017 to 2018;

  • $2,205 spent on a television with no receipts; and 

  • $4,301 for management to attend an international harm reduction conference in Portugal.

The choice to shut down ARCHES rather than restructure its leadership team and financial reporting requirements was made because of “systemic” issues within the organization, Luan’s office told AB Today. “The findings demonstrated the organization’s inability to manage public funds or appropriately govern their facility,” a spokesperson said. 
Luan’s office said the mobile site will be able to match the site’s April capacity, when it received 142 visits per day.
However, April appeared to be a slow month for the facility, which recorded a total of 60,098 visits from January to March, according to the government’s opioid surveillance report.
In a news release, ARCHES said its board “woke up to this news just like the rest of our community” and did not receive a copy of the audit report before it was leaked to the media. 
ARCHES’ contract with the province was set to expire in September.