Addiction service's gamble pays off

RASS in better financial health after ending contract

They have dedicated their careers to helping people in times of trouble.

For the last year, however, Richmond Addiction Services (RASS) has had to dig deep internally to fight its own financial battles, making some tough calls along the journey.

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After deciding it could no longer maintain a provincial contract to counsel gambling addicts - which was draining thousands of dollars from the society - RASS found itself having to find more than $150,000 in scarce funding.

That's when it had to take matters into its own hands, trawling the grant world to secure $25,000 here and $28,000 there in a bid to make up the shortfall.

They succeeded by doing more with much less. But it came at a price with RASS - a non-profit society focused on treating and preventing addiction - having to lay off a couple of staff members last year to survive.

Now, nine months after being forced to give up the provincial contract, RASS is a leaner, meaner machine and even boasts a better financial position than in its dark days of 2012.

"We had to lay off two staff and had to reduce our administrative hours significantly," said Rick Dubras, RASS' executive director, who spoke to city council this week about how the society has turned things around.

"We had to become very, very lean. I'm the only manager and it puts a lot of strain on certain aspects of the operation. But we're in better shape than last year.

"We've had to find alternative funds and find new grants and that means much more administration. We've had to be so creative in the last year with finding funding and streamlining all of our operations and services."

Funding for RASS comes primarily from Vancouver Coastal Health for its clinical programs and a portion of the prevention programs also.

The City of Richmond's grant process provides about 20 per cent of the entire funding, helping with the remainder of the prevention programming.

But with the loss of the gaming addiction contract - which is now contracted out privately - Dubras admitted the focus on gambling addiction has been reduced.

"Our concern is that we no longer know all about what's going on in the community and if we don't know, the city doesn't know," he said, referring to a long-standing partnership the society has had with the city in tackling problem gambling.

"The partnership was forged to make sure the casino was doing no harm to the city.

"We were there to manage the consequences and to make sure the community has access to the right services."

Dubras said, for example, debt counselors would refer people to RASS for help.

Now, they phone the gambling hotline and will get referred to help from there.

"Is that better or worse? We don't really know, that's the problem," added Dubras.

"It's always best to have the one-stop-shop that we offered. We could monitor it and deal with it accordingly.

"Some people also prefer building up a personal relationship."

One of the many challenges faced by RASS over the last year has been the drop in "contacts" made with people.

"One of the ways we track our contacts is at events, the amount of people we come into contact with, the amount of people who attend the events," said Dubras.

"This has decreased because we've lost the staff to evaluate these figures."

With every cloud there is, of course, the proverbial silver lining. At RASS that takes the shape of energy being switched over to prevention and education in the city's school system. RASS aims to ramp up community outreach with a number of addiction prevention initiatives planned for 2013.

"We need to continue to break down the stigma and our funders are always looking for us to produce new ways to deal with the addictions, so the work never stops," said Dubras. RASS' executive director, Rick Dubras, hopes gambling addicts will still get the right help.

acampbell@richmond-news.com

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