Board-initiated review of Lethbridge supervised consumption site released, provincial audit still to come

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ARCHES releases early results of organizational review with provincial audit still looming
WATCH: The organization that runs Lethbridge’s supervised consumption site released the early results of a board-initiated organizational review on Wednesday. Danica Ferris has more on the immediate changes that ARCHES is implementing. – Jul 8, 2020

The organization that runs Lethbridge’s controversial supervised consumption site (SCS) has released the early results of an organizational review initiated by its board of directors.

ARCHES said in a release on Wednesday that its board of directors began the search for a third-party company to complete an operational review at the end of March. In the middle of May, Mandy DeCecco-Kolebaba, owner and consultant of Collaborative Strategies, was secured and she started her review process in June.

“Since June, I started with interviewing 30 of the top-level employees, and going through the documents, policies, procedures, mission, vision, values, that type of thing,” DeCecco-Kolebaba said. “We’ve started to create a work plan now — and implementing now — so we’ve been moving really quick.”

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She says normally a review like this would be done in three parts — review, development and implementation — but in ARCHES’ case, the review has been structured a little differently.

“We’re doing everything at once,” she said. “The review is ongoing, the development is ongoing, and the implementation is ongoing. So instead of waiting — because this is a big organization — for the whole review to be completed, we’re working off of the information that we’re gathering on a daily basis.”

The release from ARCHES identified the following actions for immediate change:

  • A new streamlined Organizational Structure with extensive operational oversight;
  • Implementation of new board recruitment strategies and policies;
  • Improved ‘good neighbour’ policies working to improve the look, safety, debris and impact of the SCS;
  • Improved collaboration with Lethbridge police and EMS;
  • Ensuring a consistent and responsible compensation policy that is in line with similar organizations in terms of size, structure, and feasibility;
  • Enhanced financial oversight;
  • Recommitment to the original harm reduction strategies;
  • Renewed focus on all other areas of current programming; and,
  • Appropriate and professional communication policies involving the public, media, government officials, and partners.”
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“I think at this time, what ARCHES is really focused on — and what the board is really focused on — is working to maintain positive relationships moving forward,” Aaron Fitchett, the current president of ARCHES’ board of directors, said. “We’re working with Mandy, with her organizational review, and we’re doing the best that we can to implement that change, as recommendations come forward.”

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Both DeCecco-Kolebaba and Fitchett emphasizing the importance of improving ARCHES’ relationship with community members and partners.

“The goal is to be the best neighbour on the block,” said DeCecco-Kolebaba. “So there’s been a huge commitment on ensuring that the site is used properly, from an internal perspective instead of an external perspective. Ensuring that environmental factors, needle debris, all of that sort of thing is dealt with immediately, loitering is dealt with immediately.”

“The next phase is I will be reaching out to community members that are directly impacted, so the ones within a certain radius of the organization, and seeing what they would like to see.”

Fitchett believes that committing to an organizational review was an important step for ARCHES, and one that he hopes is well received by the community.

“I’m not saying that everybody’s mind will be changed about ARCHES just because we put out a press release today, or because we’re conducting an organizational review, but it might show that we’re open to that communication, we’re open to listening to community members,” he said. “And the next phase of that organizational review will be going out into the community, speaking to the neighbours.”

“I really want the stakeholders to see — and I think everyone is a stakeholder — that there is the opportunity for change, and there is the opportunity for more of a dialogue.”

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ARCHES is currently awaiting the results of a provincial audit of the SCS ordered by the Alberta government in early March. At the time, the government said an “anonymous tip” of financial irregularities at the site had led the audit, authorized by Alberta’s Associate Minister of Health and Addictions Jason Luan.

“It’s not really something that I can comment on right now,” Fitchett said. “That is something that the board and the ARCHES employees have been tasked with participating with — the [provincial] audit — [and they] have done an amazing job, and we continue to cooperate.”

When asked by Global News about the status of the audit, Kassandra Kitz, press secretary to the health and addictions minister said that the government does not comment on open investigations.

Global News asked Fitchett for his response to allegations that ARCHES has an unhealthy and toxic work environment, as well as concerns of embezzlement, but he chose not to comment on either.

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The release from ARCHES on Wednesday ending with a plea to community members, saying: “Please do not give up on ARCHES yet. We know that we have some work to do, but we are diving in and making significant decisions and changes daily.

“We are dedicated to making a difference with our vulnerable populations AND being responsible community members,” it continued. “We recognize we may not change your mind about harm reduction, but we are hoping for a second chance to improve our relationships with the community.”

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