Minister and ACSO hit back

Mary Wooldridge

Mary Wooldridge

THE Australian Community Support Organisation has hit back at suggestions the state government "missed the mark" by redistributing drug and alcohol service funds.

The state government recently announced it was redistributing $1.73 million from locally-run Loddon Mallee agencies to the Melbourne-based ACSO.

Bendigo Community Health Services chief executive Kim Sykes slammed the move, saying it would lead to job losses and services that weren't tailored to people in rural communities.

"I am astounded that this government hasn't taken into account issues in rural Victoria and the impact of shifting funding for services provided by local agencies to agencies that are based outside our region," she said.

But ACSO chief executive Karenza Louis-Smith said drug and alcohol services in Loddon Mallee were in urgent need of reform.

She said people with drug and alcohol problems often had a myriad of problems and needed multiple services.

She said her organisation provided a first point of call for patients, who would undergo an assessment and then be referred to relevant services.

"When someone puts their hand up and says, 'I want help with drugs and alcohol' they want help now," she said.

"We provide that front door and we navigate that for them."

She said in the current system, a person would have to work out for themselves which services were most relevant to their specific set of problems, which could be challenging.

"We know people get lost from A to B to C," she said.

"ACSO's role is to join the dots."

She said ACSO had an office in Bendigo for the past 20 years, providing services to former prisoners.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge also weighed in on the issue. 

She said Bendigo Community Health Services had a monopoly on drug and alcohol counselling services, which needed to change.

She said the redistribution of funds would mean Bendigo Community Health Services would likely have to shed jobs, but new jobs would be available at ACSO.

"There's exactly the same amount of funding (to drug and alcohol services) as there is currently," she said.

"Bendigo Community Health Services will have to work out how they manage their staffing ... there will be opportunities for staff to transfer."

She said ACSO was, "Exceptionally well placed to deliver services to the localised needs of Bendigo and the Loddon Mallee region."

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