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Op/Ed: The case for transforming mental health, substance use programs in Penticton

Susan Brown
By Susan Brown
March 19th, 2021

Addiction is a complex health condition that can devastate people, families, and communities and Interior Health is working to address these challenges as the understanding of mental illnesses and substance use disorders continues to evolve.

To step up and face addiction issues head on for people who experience mental health and substance use challenges, we need to review the status quo. In some cases, it’s time to stop doing things how they’ve always been done.

Working with community partners, Interior Health reviewed South Okanagan services and Pathways’ programs 2020. Following the questions raised publicly in the past few weeks, we have reconfirmed their input and support.

The Department of Psychiatry at Penticton Regional Hospital, as well as other physicians and clinicians in the community are clear in their support for change. They and IH’s own physicians, including Dr. Paul Carey, medical director for mental health and substance use at Interior Health, agree that the current model and services contracted through Pathways is preventing people from accessing the full range of available supports and care.

People need barrier-free access into a system that supports them. At Pathways, new client intake was limited to Tuesdays from 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. This prevents people from fast access to support when they need it. Interior Health will change that and open drop-in access to new clients five days per week.

How will this help?

Youth and pregnant women who may require fast access to specialized services will benefit when they don’t have to wait until the following week for support. Bringing these services in-house will help us identify instances of self-harm that require urgent intervention and offer wider hours for someone in crisis who needs to drop-in for help. 

We will improve care planning, medication support, wound care, psychosocial rehabilitation and help address primary care needs for the clients who transition to our program.

A challenge with the Pathways contract was the inability to track client progression and know whether people might be falling through the cracks. By bringing these counselling services in-house, we can follow up with people more effectively, find out what they need, and ensure people get all of the right supports and health services.

The issue is not about decades of addressing community needs one way, it is about adopting the evidence-based, client-centred approach of the future.

With new funding from the Province for mental health and addictions, we are already increasing youth treatment beds across Interior Health, adding new Integrated Treatment Teams to improve outreach services for people with addictions, training nurses and psychiatric nurses to prescribe addiction treatment medications, and so much more.

And I would be remiss not to mention the Penticton urgent and primary care centre. With the support of the Martin Street Outreach Clinic, South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, the Penticton Indian Band, the Ookanane Friendship Centre and other local partners, this will be a game changer for supporting people with mental health and addiction challenges in the South Okanagan.

An integrated in-house counselling service, combined with Interior Health’s wide range of additional programs, brings a serious challenge to the status quo – and improvement for all people in the region.

In Penticton, no services will be reduced, in fact they will be enhanced and improved.

Addressing the complex health challenges of addiction requires new strategies, fresh thinking, innovation and integration across every aspect of the health sector. With each step that someone takes on their wellness journey, Interior Health will be here to support them – in Penticton, the South Okanagan, and beyond.

Categories: HealthOp/Ed

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