Search for treatment sends gambling addicts in circles
Published Monday, June 14, 2010 5:48PM PDT
Red tape and bureaucratic confusion appear to have sent two gambling addicts in circles looking for treatment for a condition so serious their doctors recommended special out-of-province care.
One addict applied to B.C.'s health ministry, was rejected, and told to apply to B.C.'s ministry of housing, which is responsible for gambling.
The other addict was given the opposite advice: she applied to the ministry of housing, but was sent to the ministry of health.
"It's very frustrating," said Dr. Jenny Melamed, who is treating a gambling addict who has asked to be referred to as "Shannon" to protect her job. "It's basically impossible. You get people who have come in for help and they're falling through the cracks."
The B.C. Lottery Corporation, which runs gaming in the province, contributes about $1.1 billion to the provincial treasury each year. One of the promises that was supposed to minimize the damage widespread gambling could cause for problem gamblers is that treatment for problem gambling would be paid for.
"If a person has a problem we'll fund it," said Housing Minsiter Rich Coleman in an interview with CTV News last week.
The province does offer free counselling and an intensive one-week program, as well as a gambling help line. The minister wasn't available Monday to comment on these specific cases.
When Shannon applied to an out-of-province facility through Dr. Melamed, the doctor received a letter from the health ministry that denied coverage.
"The Ministry of Health Services does not provide funding for gambling addiction in British Columbia," wrote Lolanda Emerson, the program administrator. "Please contact David Horricks, Director, Responsible Gambling Strategy at the Ministry of Housing."
"Wayne," another gambling addict CTV News has agreed to protect on the grounds that revealing it could hurt his small business, was also referred to out-of-province residential care. He's lost some half a million dollars to gambling over the past eight years.
In a rejection letter he received from Derek Sturko, the assistant deputy minister of housing and social development, he was given the opposite advice.
"The Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch does not offer residential treatment, as such programs are the responsibility of the Ministry of Health Services," the letter said.
Sturko then referred Wayne to his personal physician, who would have more information on options and would be able to help the process.
That advice would just have sent Wayne's doctor around in circles as well, said Dr. Melamed.
"It's very frustrating because I'm doing a lot of paperwork and I'm playing games with federal and provincial bodies and I don't enjoy doing this," said Dr. Melamed. "Someone needs to step up to the plate."
Shannon told CTV News that over the past six months she has given some $40,000 to B.C. casinos. She said her stints at the casinos lasted 18 hours, and she simply couldn't stop until she ran out of money.
She thought another program offered by BCLC -- the self-exclusion program -- would keep her away, but she said she was allowed in to B.C. casinos almost daily in the 6 months since she signed up.
That's the same program that a CTV News investigation last week showed offered zero resistance to a registered problem gambler as he entered four different casinos.
"It's disappointing, so disappointing," Shannon said.
"Honestly I feel that gamblers spend so much money at the casino, and if they're going to say we're going to help you, they should just be able to give us just a little bit back," she said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward and Mi-Jung Lee