Residents of a Gimli-area drug rehab centre have been left in limbo after the building has been put up for auction by its owner.
Mike Bruneau formerly owned Aurora Recovery Centre, a private addiction treatment facility one hour north of Winnipeg, before selling it to current chairman Paul Melnuk in 2016 for $9 million over two mortgages.
Bruneau told the Free Press he’s received quarterly payments for five years, and was due $3 million under the first mortgage in April of this year, but that hasn’t been paid nor the first quarterly payment of 2021, totalling around $3.5 million in unpaid fees.
After being told the payment was coming multiple times, Bruneau said, he made the decision to go into foreclosure and auction off the property.
"I’m getting calls from patients, I’m getting calls from mothers… the patients are upset, their families are upset, but they’re telling everybody everything’s going on as usual. How could they say that?" — Mike Bruneau
A classified ad announcing the action advertised it as a 28-acre, 72-bed facility with a medical detox wing and indoor pool and gym. It lists the auction date as Nov. 10.
"What’s upsetting me is they’ve been trying to negotiate with me. They told me a few weeks ago, if I advertised the foreclosure they’d have to shut the place down because they couldn’t take people in if they were going to be shut down, new clients, patients. But yet, they’re still taking them," Bruneau told the Free Press.
Bruneau said he and Melnuk are currently in court, over an unresolved deal to purchase 14 of the 28 acres.
Melnuk did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Aurora Recovery Centre president Steve Low said the "legal dispute" would have no impact on patient care.
"The day-to-day operations of Aurora Recovery Centre remain exactly the same. Aurora remains steadfast in continuing to support our patients with a recovery-oriented system of care. We continue to accept new patients into Aurora Recovery Centre and remain dedicated to their full recovery," Low said in an email.
“They only thing they can do to save this from going to foreclosure is to give me $3.5 million now." — Mike Bruneau
Bruneau said this narrative isn’t accurate, however, and there are no plans to keep the centre running should the building be auctioned off.
"I’m going to be stuck with 50 (residents), and all of a sudden Michael Bruneau’s kicking people with addictions out of his building, and I’m going to be the bad guy and I don’t want that to happen," he said.
"I’m getting calls from patients, I’m getting calls from mothers… the patients are upset, their families are upset, but they’re telling everybody everything’s going on as usual. How could they say that?"
An average 45-day stay at Aurora costs $26,900.
Tracy Sanderson’s daughter is currently undergoing her third stint in Aurora Recovery Centre. Despite this, she said, the first she heard of the building being put up for auction was via social media. Sanderson said she hasn't been contacted by Aurora.
"I mentioned it to my daughter, and she’s a little bit worried," she said.
Sanderson, who works with Overdose Awareness Manitoba and previously lost a child to fentanyl poisoning, had to mortgage her home the first time to pay for her daughter's first admission to Aurora in 2016.
Sanderson said she believes her daughter would be dead today if she had to wait for publicly available addictions treatment and spoke highly of Aurora's treatment plan, noting losing the facility would be a crushing blow to Manitoba families in need of support for their loved ones.
"There is nowhere for them to go. The waiting list to get into public treatment is far too long," she said.
Bruneau said there are plans to meet Wednesday with Melnuk and lawyers to discuss the possible foreclosure.
"They only thing they can do to save this from going to foreclosure is to give me $3.5 million now," he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.