BC’s crisis lines will be staying in the hands of not-for profit and experienced service providers

BC Health Coalition members know too well that Request For Proposal (RFP) processes run a high risk of contracting out public and non-profit services to private, for-profit, companies. So in the fall when the BC government released a Notice to Vendor announcing the Province’s intention to put crisis line services to competitive bid, our coalition mobilized to protect these lifesaving services. 

BACKGROUND

The BC Crisis Line Network, comprised of 10 local crisis centres, answers calls to 1-800-SUICIDE, 310-6789 Mental Health, and regional distress lines. As the province faces multiple emergencies including the opioid crisis, Covid-19 pandemic and impacts of climate change, the Crisis Line Network provided lifesaving crisis de-escalation, suicide risk assessment, safety planning and follow-up to vulnerable British Columbians.

Crisis centres across BC are receiving upwards of four times as many calls as they did in pre-pandemic times. Members of the Crisis Line Network have recommended for years that the BC government allow the centralizing and scaling up of technology and increase funding to meet the rising demand for services. 

The Province has decided to heed this advice, but initially instead of directly awarding the increased funding to the not-for-profit network that collectively has 515 years’ experience providing services, the BC government released a Notice to Vendor announcing the Province’s intention to embark on a Request For Proposal (RFP) process and put crisis line services to competitive bid.

Not only did the RFP process threaten to delay and disrupt access to these lifesaving services at a time when demand is at an all-time high, but precedent has shown that RFPs result in the contracting out of public and non-profit services to private, for-profit companies. This would result in the corruption of services by profit motives, weakened accountability to the public, lack of connections to the communities being served, and, most importantly, a decline in quality of services.

Working in support of the Crisis Line Network, BC Health Coalition members came together to voice our collective concerns and protect these essential services. Our voices reached Members of the Legislative Assembly and included meetings with the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development. And as a result, the Province has changed its approached by launching a Call for Offers as a starting place to negotiate the direct award of crisis line services to the not-for-profit network that has historically delivered these services.

The BC Health Coalition welcomes this news! However, we know that unless the BC Government stops using RFPs to fund health, educational and social services, our public services will continue to be threatened and eroded by for profit take overs. We will continue to challenge the use of RFPs in health care so that all public health and social services are sustainably funded.