Solutions to address the ongoing mental health and substance use challenges that affect Vancouver Island communities were discussed at the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s State of the Island Economic Summit this week.
Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. minister of mental health and addictions, and Signy Madden, United Way B.C. regional director, presented on the topic Wednesday, Oct. 26, at th Vancouver Island Conference Centre. They discussed innovations that “happen on the ground.”
“This is a big topic,” said Madden. “We can spend about two days talking about mental health issues and addiction issues. There’s such complexity and compassion. There’s hopelessness and amazing hope in this topic.”
“I want you to hear everything with the caveat that there is so much more to do,” said Malcolmson, adding that community-based supports “across the entire spectrum” have been scaled up and invested in.
Peer-assisted care teams were the first topic to be discussed. PACTs include health-care workers and other professionals trained to de-escalate during mental health interventions and connect people with ongoing health care resources.
“They’re the ones that respond in a crisis,” Malcolmson said. “There are times that police involvement in a mental health crisis actually exacerbates a situation. And that is where PACT has the real potential to make the change and be life-saving in some situations … When someone is in distress, instead of being transported to hospital in the back of a police car, they will be met by a peer who’s been through a similar experience, along with a professional mental health worker.”
The first PACT, launched in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, piloted on Metro Vancouver’s North Shore last fall.
“The team was contacted 448 times. They were dispatched 75 times. And police interventions were only needed six of those 75 times,” the minister said.
According to a release issued by the provincial government in April, PACTs are planned for New Westminster and Victoria this year.
Malcolmson also discussed community transition teams, a service hosted by the Provincial Health Services Authority that operates out of five B.C. correction centres, including Nanaimo.
She said that in the first three years, the five teams have helped approximately 1,500 people successfully transition back into the community by connecting them with resources for mental health and substance-use treatment, as well as for psychiatric, clinical and social supports.
“As soon as an individual was brought into a prison for any reason … [the team] starts to work, pretty much from Day 1, on discharge,” Malcolmson said, adding that her ministry recently expanded the project to all 10 correctional centres, doubled the size of the teams, and extended the eligibility from 30 to 90 days after release.
The final project discussed at the summit involved assisting people in the construction, trade and transport industry, which according to Malcolmson, “are really over-represented in overdose deaths.” Men make up 79 per cent of toxic drug deaths in B.C., and nearly 20 per cent of those who died worked in trades or transport, the minister said.
Rory Kulmala, chief executive officer with the Vancouver Island Construction Association, introduced the Tailgate Toolkit Project, which aims to increase access to harm-reduction services and ideas for those working in the construction industry.
“A toolkit talk is something that happens on virtually every job site, first thing in the morning and throughout the day,” said Kulmala. “It’s designed to convey to the crew what’s going to happen, any safety concerns … so we leverage that type of relationship.”
The project includes “toolkit talks” that provide conversations about substance use, mental health, the current toxic drug supply and what harm reduction and recovery services are available in each region of the province.
Malcomson said Island Health initially funded the project and it is has since been expanded provincewide.