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Downtown location for Vernon overdose prevention site controversial

Click to play video 'Downtown Vernon overdose prevention site proves controversial' Downtown Vernon overdose prevention site proves controversial
A grieving parent is welcoming news that an overdose prevention site is being set up in Vernon, but the decision to locate the service downtown has its critics. Megan Turcato reports. – May 12, 2020

Interior Health‘s plans to open an overdose prevention site in downtown Vernon are generating mixed reviews.

The city’s chamber of commerce, concerned about the impact on business, has come out against the plan to locate the site downtown.

After putting the project on hold for more than a year, Interior Health announced Monday, at Vernon city council, that it was moving ahead with an overdose prevention site in Vernon.

READ MORE: Overdose prevention site proposal in Vernon put on hold pending further consultation

In making the announcement, Colleen McEwan, a regional director of clinical operations for Interior Health, told council research had shown that overdose services like this one reduce overdose deaths, public drug use and discarded needles.

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The health authority said the overdose prevention services will be part of broader mental health and substance-use services at the site.

Clients will also have access to counseling, drug checking and treatment referrals, among other services, at the location.

READ MORE: Grieving parent advocates for Vernon supervised injection site

McEwan acknowledged there had been controversy over where the site would be located, but said the health authority had picked a location in the city’s downtown core because it is “near to where the overdoses are occurring.”

The site on 32nd Avenue has been leased by Interior Health for years, McEwan said.

It had been used as clinic, but, with the opening of a new IH facility, it now has more space to accommodate the overdose prevention site.

The Downtown Primary Care Centre is located at 3306A 32nd Ave. in Vernon.
The Downtown Primary Care Centre is located at 3306A 32nd Ave. in Vernon. Megan Turcato\Global News

Concern about impact on business

The location of the site is raising concerns about the potential impact on downtown businesses.

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The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce put out a statement reiterating calls for the service not be located in the city’s downtown.

“Business owners are compassionate and want individuals to access the help they need, but the location of an [overdose prevention site] in the downtown core could compound already existing perceptions that downtown is not safe,” said chamber president Krystin Kempton.

The business group said the service should be at the city’s hospital, “which provides a range of services, particularly during emergency situations.”

Interior Health also faced questions for Vernon city councillors about how it will minimize any impact on neighbouring businesses.

McEwan ran through a variety of steps the health authority has taken in an effort to be a good neighbour.

She said the service will only be open weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in an effort to prevent loitering on evenings and weekends.

READ MORE: Vernon is getting an overdose prevention site — Should city council get to OK the location?

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It will also be staffed an hour after closing to prevent issues when the site closes, and neighbours have been given a direct phone number to call if there is a problem.

She added that the site will be operated by Interior Health directly (not contracted out as was previously planned) which, McEwan said, would have the advantage of allowing for quick modifications to address concerns that arise.

The health authority said it plans to ramp up operations at the site in the near future.