Missiondale Recovery Centre has been unable to open any new beds at its drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, despite being allocated $800,000 a year for the next four years in the 2017-18 federal budget.
The City Mission-operated centre received a pledge from the federal government in 2016 for funding that would consolidate the 24-bed facility, while also allowing for an additional 10 spaces.
Missiondale director Ann Koops said the funding had been insufficient to open additional beds for people seeking drug and alcohol treatment because the centre did not have additional finances available to employ more staff.
“We’ve got more beds that we could open, but we don’t have funding for staff to support people,” Mrs Koops said.
“If we could have more funding so that we could increase our staffing, that would mean that we could open more beds than we currently do.”
Bass Labor MHR Ross Hart said he was not surprised.
“Unfortunately the Liberals have inflicted massive cuts on the health flexible funds and this is taking a toll on access to alcohol and drug services, especially in regional Australia,” he said.
“The government has put the drug and alcohol sector under serious funding uncertainty time and time again, and we know that this has had an impact on the ability of services to take on new clients.”
The rehabilitation centre relies on a mixture of state and federal funding to maintain and operate its 35-hectare facility.
In June 2016, City Mission chief executive Stephen Brown spoke publicly about the prospect of the organisation’s Evandale centre drastically reducing its intake of new patients if federal government funding wasn’t renewed.
Just days before last year’s July 2 federal election, the Coalition government confirmed it would renew and increase Missiondale’s funding to $800,000 in order to cover the centre’s costs, while also allowing it to increase the number of patient beds.
A spokesperson for Tasmanian Liberal Senator David Bushby claims that the funding was never intended to be used for expansion of Missiondale.
While the funding was confirmed and delivered in the 2017-18 budget, the centre still runs with just 24 beds and has a waiting list for about 35 people.
Entry into Missiondale is not an automatic process. Most people have to wait for two months on the centre’s waiting list, and must call the centre every week after first lodging their name to maintain their place in the queue.
One man residing in Missiondale said that he faced a lengthy wait to secure a place in the program.
“I waited for roughly two months until I could get into Missiondale,” Graham* said.
“I was couch surfing at mates’ houses during this time, so I’d say I was homeless.
“I can only speak for myself, but I think there would be a heap of people who would make that phone call [to Missiondale] and if they didn’t get in that first time then would wait for some other major crisis in their life if they rang up again at all.”
Like a third of the people seeking treatment at Missiondale, Graham is in rehabilitation for a methamphetamine addiction.
After previously training and working as a social worker, the 34-year-old started to develop a methamphetamine addiction. By the time he decided to seek help he was injecting up to half a gram of ice a day.
“I had what you would call a normal life – worked full time, had a house, was married, one child and was a recreational user for a period of three or four years,” he recounted.
“My relationship with my wife broke down and was entwined with when my substance abuse started to pick up. At that stage it became a pretty well full blown addiction.
“I was using every day and pretty soon lost everything I had.”
AN ICE PROBLEM?
A wastewater drug report conducted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission showed that the regional sites in Tasmania were among the highest for consumption of ice in the country. Additionally, a 2016 National Drug Survey Report showed that the amount of ice users who ingest the substance weekly has tripled.
Graham believes that there are not enough rehabilitation services available for ice users or for people at risk of addiction.
“There should be early education programs that targets school children. From my understanding [methamphetamine] targets people who are more at the fringes of society, or in lower economic places and these people should be targeted for education,” he said.
“The services that are available, I didn’t find easy to seek out. I found out through someone who was already involved in [City Mission’s] services, other than that I wouldn’t know where to turn to.
“As far as I’m aware Missiondale is the only sort of program which runs in this way.”
Graham is currently in his seventh week of his eight-month rehabilitation program.
*Name changed to protect Graham’s identity