Vancouver — Instead of assisting caregivers and newcomers, a local immigrant settlement service agency was profiting from them, say caregivers and former staff at a press conference this morning.
They allege that Multicultural Helping House Society (MHHS)* Board Members used the agency and its resources to sell expensive and inappropriate insurance products to vulnerable caregivers and newcomers who came to them for help – and that people felt they had to “pay to play” for access to services.
The caregivers say insurance policy premiums start around $200 monthly and was being sold using a multi-level marketing business model at the MHHS by its President “Tatay” (Father in Filipino) Tom Avendano and Greatway Financial insurance agent Norilyn Delos Reyes.
“As a former staff member, I witnessed how Tatay Tom and Norilyn would pitch their insurance policies to clients who were at the agency for a settlement program,” says Rhea Villavicencio, a former MHHS staff member.
“Caregivers who didn’t buy a policy or wanted to cancel it after finding out how expensive the premiums were would often be ostracized and made to not feel welcome at the MHHS. Some also felt pressured into buying shares in the MHHS Co-op,” added Ms. Villavicencio.
Along with the misuse of MHHS resources for their private business, the caregivers say there were many other examples of financial irregularities, corruption, mismanagement, and conflict of interest issues at the MHHS.
“We also often organized fundraisers but we never received an accounting of the funds raised or where the money went. When we began asking questions and pointing out examples of financial and organizational mismanagement, the MHHS Board dissolved our group. This was also after I canceled my insurance policy,” said Jeanette Dotimas, former MHHS Caregivers’ Advocate President.
“We sacrificed and came to Canada with the hopes of a better life. We are heartbroken that our trust has been so deeply betrayed by ‘Tatay Tom’ and the MHHS Board of Directors,” explained Ms. Dotimas.
“The MHHS is not a marketplace and the exploitation of caregivers there must end,” she emphasized.
Former staff member, Crisanta Sampang also recounted her experience at the MHHS. She was their Caregiver Coordinator and Media Specialist and was responsible for producing content about Tatay Tom and the MHHS.
“I began to notice that it stopped to be a ‘helping house’ and that it was being built to serve the needs of a just a few people,” said Ms. Sampang.
To improve the MHHS, the group outlined the following recommendations:
1. Stop the exploitation of caregivers and newcomers and end the conduct of private businesses at the MHHS;
2. Replace the current Board of Directors with a qualified and independent Board;
3. Conduct an organizational assessment of the MHHS to identify and address the many corruption and governance problems present;
4. Conduct a forensic financial audit of the MHHS for its last 10 years and of the Multicultural Helping House Foundation for the period since its establishment;
5. Return the money, with interest, of all MHHS Co-op members requesting a refund.
At the press conference, the caregivers outlined plans to form a caregiver group to support each other through this issue and to continue to empower and advocate for caregivers.
The group concluded by calling on caregivers to reach out and contact them.
“We want to send a message to caregivers, especially those victimized, that they are not alone. They don’t need to live in fear. Together we can overcome this and continue towards the brighter future we all came to Canada for. We encourage caregivers to stand up and speak out and we hope the public will also stand with us,” concluded Ms. Sampang.