People in the Northwest will soon have access to mental health and addiction support with the help of a new mobile service unit.
Terrace’s Intensive Case Management team is hitting the road this April in a retrofitted ambulance to offer mental health and substance use services. The Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy was in Terrace with Northern Health staff and leaders to make the announcement on March 21.
This unit includes referrals, take-home naloxone kits and training, basic wound care and assistance navigating resources for housing, finances, employment, health cards, dental and eye care. The service is being funded through Northern Health and through resources from the province.
Outside the Terrace Health Unit, two people walked up to the podium to share their own experiences with addiction, mental health, and homelessness.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to come here and say anything, but listening to these folks… I really hope they can help, because we’re losing too many of our friends. And we’re losing a lot of respect,” says John Dignard with emotion in his voice. “We don’t have much, but we have each other.”
Dignard first met Misty Louie in Terrace when they were both homeless and living in a tent. He says those facing homelessness experience the brunt of the impact of mental health and addiction issues, but must also overcome stigmas and barriers to services when they need help.
“We’ve seen a lot of things on the street because we used to live in a tent when we first met and it was hard, but we had each other and we had the street people,” says John Dignard. “A lot of people look at them as disgusting, as addicts, as bums… but if you needed the coat off of their back, they would give it to you.”
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy was in Terrace to make the announcement and says meeting people where they’re at, with the services they need, can be a lifeline for people in the Northwest. The last thing people seeking help want to hear is that they have to wait in line, she says.
“We need to extend the reach of our services. Terrace is really underserved but the more remote communities are also underserved. That’s why this is such a brilliant idea,” says Darcy, adding this was an initiative led by Northern Health staff working on the ground within these communities.
The unit is also aimed at helping build the capacity of local primary and community care services to reduce pressure on local emergency departments and emergency services, while providing coordinated care, according to the press release.
Dignard says the respect shown by the Intensive Case Management Team in Terrace is extremely important when trying to reach marginalized populations.
“Everybody deserves a chance. And that’s all they want, is a chance to have someone listen to them and not sit there and give them a disgusted look and walk by them. They have a heart, they have a soul, and they are our friends.”
A staggering 1,489 British Columbians died from a drug overdose last year — that’s roughly four people dying per day, according to the B.C. Coroner Service. Darcy says in January, six more people died within the Northern Health’s service area.
And she says thousands more may have died over the last couple years without the increased distribution of naloxone kits, overdose prevention and safe consumption services, and more access to assisted treatment and recovery programs in B.C.
“The numbers are horrifyingly high.”
Over the next two to three weeks, ICMT will meet and decide which communities they will be travelling to. Supports offered through the unit will be assessed over time and may change to reflect the needs of Northwest residents. Darcy says the province will be reaching out to other communities as the mobile unit hits the road to see if a similar model will work elsewhere.
Derek Flynn, a registered nurse who will be travelling in the unit, says he’s happy to see the mobile service team realized.
“It’s super important, I was born and raised here and it’s a gap that’s been here for many years. Our clients tend to fall through the gaps and aren’t getting the healthcare they not only need, but that they deserve. This is bringing those services to them.”
This unit is part of the Specialized Community Service Program for Mental Health and Addictions in the Northwest Health Service Delivery Area.