Waterford ABE still a concern: advocates

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on March 28, 2014

In 2013, a centre tailored to students with mental illness was among the adult basic education (ABE) programs impacted by an austere provincial budget, and advocates are now disappointed it wasn’t among the winners in Thursday’s upbeat budget.

“What has happened is the (Waterford Bridge Road ABE centre) is no longer what it was. It has changed drastically,” said Mark Gruchy, president of Canadian Mental Health Association Newfoundland and Labrador (CMHA-NL) Friday.

“A lot things have been restored (since Budget 2013). The most vulnerable group of people are being ignored. It’s very frustrating for us.”

In September, Gruchy and another advocate — Donna Kavanagh, a retired instructor and co-ordinator who spent almost 40 years at the centre — went public in The Telegram with their fears the Waterford Bridge Road centre could be in jeopardy because of changes in the way it is administered.

Months later,  Gruchy said advocates for the centre have received no response from government about their continuing concerns.

“Essentially, there has been a multiple and broad effort to engage and (government) are ignoring it,” said Gruchy. adding he feels the program has been disconnected from its intent as a service for people suffering mental health issues, learning disabilities and trauma who weren’t well served by the traditional educational system.

“We are very severely concerned. … It’s not connected to anything it used to be connected to.

“Most disturbing to us is nobody will talk to us.”

The centre was previously operated through the College of the North Atlantic in co-operation with Eastern Health. It’s located in a building on the Waterford Hospital property.

In the March 2013 provincial budget, the government announced it would privatize ABE services around the province to save money.

So, the Waterford ABE was privatized to the lowest bidder and was cut from three teachers to two and salaries cut back.

CMHA-NL had also bid on the program, but did not win. While it built some cuts into its bid, it planned to retain three teachers.

“We wish to assist in the process of restoring the program to the maximum extent. We had tendered for it previously, and are not averse to being involved in its delivery. However, the primary concern is simply that the program properly function and survive,” Gruchy said, adding the Waterford Bridge ABE should be treated as a health program.

“We are concerned this population is being ignored, pushed aside. This program is going to die. People are going to die. I’ll say it as starkly as that.”

Gruchy discovered he wanted to be a lawyer while attending the program. He graduated from the centre and credits it with saving his life.

 Last fall, Steve Snow, president of the Discovery Centre, which won a tender bid to deliver the program, said he was confident the facility can operate as before even with one fewer teacher.

A spokesman for Advanced Education and Skills said Friday all ABE tenders come with the provision that contracts may be renewed for another year.

The department said it is  in discussions with the current service providers about contract renewal and all are interested.

Contracts for all privatized ABE expire Monday.