Subiaco: Fresh Start facing shutdown amid funding crisis

Chief Executive Officer Jeff Claughton Fresh Start Recovery. Picture: Andrew Ritchie.
Chief Executive Officer Jeff Claughton Fresh Start Recovery. Picture: Andrew Ritchie.

A SUBIACO rehabilitation centre could be forced to close its doors amid ongoing funding cuts and claims of broken funding promises by the State Government.

Fresh Start Recovery Programme chief executive Jeff Claughton said Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis had promised $300,000 in additional funding in May last year to help keep them open.

Mr Francis confirmed he met Mr Claughton but said he did not promise $300,000 worth of funding to Fresh Start.

Mr Claughton said the Minister’s funding promise was on the back of a $1 million decrease in funding over three years, announced in the 2015-16 budget.

He said the number of people seeking help for methamphetamine addiction had risen 23 per cent over the past two years, stretching the centre’s resources to breaking point.

“It’s like a tsunami when I open the door at 7am to people wanting treatment,” he said.

“The amount of people wanting treatment is rising, but the funding is decreasing.”

The $300,000 worth of funding was set to go towards naltrexone implants to treat drug addicts in WA prisons to help break the cycle of offending.

Fresh Start medical director George O’Neil pioneered the experimental naltrexone treatment in WA.

Mr Claughton said the not-for-profit organisation was told to reduce costs by cutting treatment to those who did not pay for it.

“The government’s standard response is that we receive significant funding and we should tailor our costs, meaning we should turn people away if they cannot afford to pay for treatment,” he said.

“We treat people whether they can pay or not. Everyone will get a bill for $6000, but we will treat them regardless… only about 20 per cent actually pay the full amount.

“Over half the people we treat are homeless or unemployed and 80 per cent have an association with the criminal justice centre.”

Mental Health Minister Andrea Mitchell said the State Government announced a $14.9 million Meth Strategy in July to reduce the demand for meth and boost treatment support.

Ms Mitchell said meth use in WA was higher than the national average, with 3.8 per cent of the population over the age of 14 using the drug, compared with 2.1 per cent nationally.

“The Fresh Start Recovery Programme is an important service and the Mental Health Commission funding commitment of approximately $3 million in 2016-17 reflects this,” she said.

“An additional grant funding of approximately $1 million per annum was provided to support the service while they progressed work on the registration of naltrexone implants with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.”

The centre has treated more than 1964 patients over the past two years and detoxed 1096, with 80 per cent of it funded by Fresh Start.

Mr Claughton said despite the fact the Government was promoting a war on meth in the media, the funding provided to help the problem was “laughable”.

“We are doing something about it every day and we can’t afford to do it,” he said.

“It keeps me awake at night. I am going to have to start turning people away or making staff redundant.

“I have not been given answers. Our funding is being cut and we cannot keep doing what we are doing. There will come a day when we have to close our doors.”