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Former patients share troubling experiences at Kelowna treatment centre

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KELOWNA – A recently released court decision reveals some examples of the kinds of allegations that led to the investigation and eventual shut down of a Kelowna youth treatment centre in 2013.

NeurVana Recovery and Wellness Inc. was forced to close in 2013 after it was discovered the centre was essentially operating as Community Care Facility without a licence. Social workers for the province also began investigating reports of mistreatment of patients and staff around the same time. NeurVana marketed itself as offering a holistic “brain-centred” approach to wellness. They also offered “brainwave optimization” sessions involving musical tones played through headphones.

A 2016 petition by owners Dave and Susan Kenney failed to convince the court that Ministry employees acted unreasonably, but has also unwittingly brought to light several of the complaints received in the months leading up to the closure.

On November 27, 2013 a woman who lived near one of NeurVana’s two Kelowna locations phoned the Ministry of Children and Family Development office saying a young woman had arrived at her home asking for help escaping NeurVana. A written decision released Dec. 5 says this was not the first time it happened.

“The first girl had arrived at approximately 5:00 a.m. one morning, flagging down the Informant’s husband as he left the driveway, asking for a ride to the airport. Both she and the second girl from NeurVana had arrived with bare feet. The Informant expressed concern, based on the youths’ presentations, that something was not right at NeurVana and the youths might not be safe there.”

One of the girls told the neighbour she would rather sleep on the streets than return to NeurVana.

Justice Anthony Saunders details some of the complaints gathered by the Ministry during interviews with those who had been enrolled.

“When each youth arrived at the Ranch, their personal belongings were taken away, including wallets, identification, cell phones, prescription medications, makeup, toiletries, and clothing; even stuffed animals and photographs were confiscated and locked away;

“Upon admission, Mr. Kenney met alone with each youth, and in what he described to the youth as a confidential interview and a part of the treatment process, had each of them recount what had been going on in their lives that caused their family to send them to NeurVana… Mr. Kenney would later use that information against the youths, to embarrass or ridicule them, and as a means of control;

“Most of the youths brought up the ‘group meetings’. They dreaded these because during many of the group meetings, at least one of them would be singled out by Mr. Kenney, and their personal information and private issues revealed. On occasion, Mr. Kenney encouraged the others to join in the ridicule. Several youths said that they felt compelled to participate; they felt that if they didn’t take part in the shaming behaviours that they would be the next, and their secrets and weaknesses would be revealed to everyone;

“When the youths were allowed telephone contact with their families, the calls were not made inside the Ranch, but rather, were made from inside Mr. Kenney’s vehicle on a cell phone, on speaker, with Mr. Kenney in attendance. They were warned in advance not to talk negatively about the facility, and not to complain, or say they wanted to leave treatment; if they violated any of those conditions Mr. Kenney would simply hang up, terminating the call;

“The lack of the ability to communicate with family was a common complaint among the youths, as was the fear of losing what little contact they were allowed as a consequence of violating a rule;

“Several of the youths reported that Ms. Kenney was often quite verbally abusive, and observed that when Mr. and Ms. Kenney were present at the Ranch it generally meant bad things were going to happen;

“Most of the girls indicated that personal care had been an issue. The girls were not allowed to shave, and were not allowed to wear makeup or nail polish;

“Another youth was quite large, and had been bullied about being overweight before he arrived at Neurvana. He said that during his admission interview, he had confided to Mr. Kenney how being made fun of and bullied over his size was a very painful and difficult thing for him. One morning at breakfast, the boy was putting syrup on his oatmeal and Mr. Kenney singled him out in front of the others, criticizing him for using so much sugar, bringing his weight into the spotlight, and knowingly and purposely bullying and ridiculing the boy in front of the others;

“Several of the youths said they were told by Mr. Kenney that they could leave the treatment program at any time they wished, but they would have to do so without their personal belongings. They were told that no transportation would be provided to take them into Kelowna, rather they would have to find their own way from the location of the Ranch to the main highway. They were told that upon reaching the highway, they would have to try to flag down a vehicle and ask for a ride, or stand at the side of the road and hitchhike;

“One young girl said that she had been on a number of prescription medications, including antidepressants and anxiety medications, when she arrived at Neurvana. During her admission, Mr. Kenney had confiscated the prescription medications and locked them away, forcing her into what was effectively a ‘cold turkey’ withdrawal. After a period of time without her medications, she wasn’t managing well, and she had a panic attack. Although she was aware that others were not allowed to talk to staff members about personal matters, she was trying to calm herself by talking to one of the chefs in the kitchen. Mrs. Kenney came along and, as punishment for her transgression, yelled at the girl, forced her to go outside, and locked the door. It was November and very cold outside, and she had no shoes or coat. She asked to be allowed back inside the residence, but Mrs. Kenney refused to let her back inside. When the girl became more panicked and upset, Ms. Kenney told her that she would not be allowed to come back in until she was ‘safe’ for all of the other residents, that she would have to stay out there until she calmed herself down.”

Saunders ruled that Ministry staff “acted within their statutory authority” to investigate the facilities and denied the petition. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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