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Op/Ed: Changes to South Okanagan Mental Health Services

MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, Roly Russell, said this shift in delivery work will work here too.

Question period in the BC legislature involves a lot of theatre--which frankly I rather enjoy.  Within the theatre, there is an opportunity for hyper-partisanship to shine.  This, I don’t care for, but I understand and respect it.  When this spills into hypocrisy, I lose my interest and enthusiasm.  And, in turn, when the hypocrisy devolves into eroding the public trust in the services that matter to our constituents’ well-being, I get irritated. 

Recently, during a particularly hypocritical volley from the opposition about how our government should do more for mental health and addictions (a point on which I agree – we are, and we do!), the opposition claimed that we are eliminating essential services in the South Okanagan. This is simply not true.

Supporting and treating people with mental health and addictions issues is vital. This government is building a full system of care with a diversity of options so people can get the treatment they need. A system that is based on new evidence and best practices, that is trauma-informed, culturally safe, and people-centered. And, importantly, that is there when people need it.

As they build this system, they are taking a hard look at existing treatment options – sometimes those that have been used for years – and asking if this is still the best way to help people. In some cases, here in the Okanagan and across the province, the status quo is not the best solution available.

Pathways has been a part of the community for over forty years, and I sincerely thank them for the valuable work they have done in the community.  In a decade when there was little more than a loosely-connected patchwork approach that relied on private and non-profit service providers for treatment and counselling, they played an essential role. But mental health and addictions issues are health issues, and they must be treated as part of a larger system that can provide responsive, versatile support as individuals progress on their journey to wellness.

We have seen this shift in delivery work in other parts of the province, and I am confident that it will work here too.

The BC government has made many important investments to support mental health and addictions treatment and recovery in the Interior. There are more than 200 government funded adult community treatment beds; there are Foundry locations in Kelowna and Penticton to help young people with mental health supports; and just this month 10 government-funded youth treatment beds came online, and there are more coming. Further, we are breaking ground with five innovative Integrated Treatment Teams that have begun to see clients across the Southern Interior.

As we increase treatment options throughout the Interior, fewer people need to travel for services and not only do they get better access to the programs they need, but it also relieves pressure on communities hosting those programs.

I want to help find solutions to enhance and expand care across our region. However, misleading the public by saying services are being eliminated does real harm to real people just to score some political points.  I think part of our challenge ahead is to ensure these well-intended changes deliver the best outcomes possible for our region.  The goal for all of us is the same: increase mental health and addictions services and lower barriers for people across the region – that takes all of us, together, from both sides of the aisle.

Roly Russell is the MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, currently serving his first term.