PORTUGAL EATING DISORDERS CENTRE IS ALL THE RAGE –OR IS IT?

By

EMILY SIMONE LUKASZEK

 In response to CBC Calgary’s article: (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/anorexia-treatment-for-calgary-teen-costing-family-40k-per-month-1.3047345)

In light of a Calgarian family’s recent plight for donations to keep their anorexic child at a treatment centre in Portugal, I feel compelled to bring forth some over-looked facts –many perhaps unknown to the public; many perhaps remembered; many perhaps forgotten by the passing of years.

The Cegonha Retreat located in Portugal was opened in recent years by the notoriously acclaimed –both as “an angel on earth” (Oprah Winfrey) and “anorexia’s fallen angel” (Barbara McLintock): Peggy Claude-Pierre.

Why Portugal? Plainly put, she was run out of Canada upon a public loss of credibility when forced to shut down her self-governed facilities in Victoria, BC called Montreux in year 2000.

Admitting she was one class short of a bachelor degree and belonged to no professional associations, Claude-Pierre repeatedly claimed a 100% cure rate based on her self-invented therapeutic approach of battling her coined disorder CNC (Confirmed Negativity Condition) by loving and caring compassionately, nurturing to health the sickest of anorectics. Also among her therapeutic approach was holding down the heads and arms of patients to force-feed them; prying open their mouths with spoons to force-feed; disregarding necessary medical monitoring; having a still critically-ill patient force-feed a three-year-old with no diagnosis of anorexia nervosa; operating unlicensed facilities to “treat” eating disorders … the list goes on and on.

Let us venture through the CBC archives:

November 16, 1999: Two former patients of Montreux died in one year.

January 12, 2000: The former employee who first brought allegations against the clinic is suing Claude-Pierre and her husband for wrongful dismissal.

July 22, 2002: “I find the treatment given to have been insufficient, unethical and deficient enough as to pose a significant threat to the patient’s life,” wrote Dr. Laird Birmingham, an internist and head of the eating disorder program at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital.

From The Guardian (UK) December 16, 1999: A former Montreux patient Jenny Reink, who left the clinic in 1998 weighing less than her admission weight in 1994: “They always portrayed Peggy on television as a kind of angel, but she simply wasn’t,” says Reink, who subsequently completed treatment for anorexia in a Vancouver hospital. “The fact is that I never saw anyone getting better.”

So what went wrong?

Allegations surrounding improper licensing go back to 1993. Finally after concerned complaints of staff, and two more licensing inquiries within 1997, a formal hearing began by Dr. Richard Stanwick, at the time the Medical Health Officer of (what was named at the time) Capital Health Region, Victoria BC. (The full hearing report is available for download through www.viha.ca).

I read the entire 159-page document in one sitting –a disgustingly page-turner type novel. In it, details testimony of (many admittedly) unqualified staff of the true accounts as to Claude-Pierre’s behaviours, instructions, and words; the actual treatment methods used; psychological and verbal abuse of patients; lack of critically needed medical monitoring for patients at risk of imminent death; a facility continuing to operate despite being unlicensed; suicide attempts of patients; failure to produce documents upon myriad requests; and the utmost endeavor to keep all patients and staff quiet about all such truths.

It was also proven Peggy Claude-Pierre lied under oath, as well as showing no remorse for her actions, stating she did not consider it wrong to continue to feed someone against their will. Upon the wake of the Hearing ordeal, Claude-Pierre’s husband expressed concerns of it being a covert conspiracy and hired a private detective.

Dr. Stanwick concluded the Montreux Clinic contravened all but one section and one sub-section of the entire Licensing Act. Thus the doors of Montreux residential facilities closed.

Reink, in her aforementioned interview with The Guardian said:  “I was pleased that they lost their license in Canada, except I know that she will open a clinic somewhere else. Peggy sets herself up as a guru, and people, if they are desperate enough, will continue to follow her. And that frightens me.”

And this is just what happened. Reink is not the only one frightened.

In the subsequent time upon the Cegonha Retreat opening, several patients from the Eating Disorders Program at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver flocked to Claude-Pierre’s arms. It seems to be the new fad.

My sources confirm that at least two patients have since returned from Portugal to Canadian hospitals in dire condition.

I thoroughly investigated every aspect of the Cegonha Retreat’s website and discovered under the section of letters of support from staff, several written from titled “former employee” praising Claude-Pierre’s work, ethics, and modalities. One was from a hairdresser. Interestingly, when cross-referencing the testifying witnesses list from the Hearing, none of their names were on the list.

The website is quite clear they employ “Doctors of Psychology, Neuropsychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Teaching Psychologists, Philosophers, Peer Counselors, Nurses, Life Coaches, Fitness Instructors, Doctors of Nutrition, Doctors specialized in Internal Medicine, Physiotherapists and Yoga Masters.” The fact that Peggy Claude-Pierre runs the centre is not mentioned, however extensive praise for her is.

The main focus of the Hearing transcript surrounded the severe mistreatment of an under-developed three-year-old boy. Still, under the Admissions FAQ section, it is stated “Age is not a consideration.” And yet pediatricians is not mentioned in the above list.

I write this to bring forth to light the severity of sending our fragile mentally ill patients, children, and family into such an unknown world. The Cegonha website indicates clearly that patients are not involved in socializing with other patients; instead they each have a 24-hour private care worker by their side to coach them out of the “Negative Mind”.

Noteworthy, CNC is not a definitive medical condition as recognized by any Psychiatric Association. Furthermore, It is still unknown if Claude-Pierre has in fact achieved a full Bachelor’s Degree or gone on to do any other professional training. After the Hearing, she seemed to drop off the face of the planet –a stark change from her glory days enjoyed in the limelight. The website also promises multiple seminars and audio, dated from September 2013, but are yet unavailable.

So my question is this: Should we as society be endorsing such pleas for financial aid? Each answer is individual. In light of what was just read, you be the judge.

Emily Simone Lukaszek is a freelance writer and author based in Victoria, Canada. For more about Emily, her writing, or to get in contact, visit her website