After months of construction, Interior Health is getting ready to open its new outreach urban-health centre in downtown Kelowna — which will include a permanent and supervised consumption site for drug users.
“We’re very excited in anticipation of opening the site,” said Danielle Cameron, executive director of IHA’s clinical operations for Central Okanagan.
“We have for years known that our existing site on Leon Avenue, where our outreach urban health is, is too small.”
The centre will be situated in the building that formerly housed Vancouver Community College on the corner of Pandosy Street and Leon Avenue.
It’s also across from the Cornerstone homeless shelter, and the existing and much smaller outreach urban health facility.
“We are already in the neighbourhood for many of our services,” said Cameron. “We’re merely moving across the street into a bigger building.”
The new facility, according to IHA, will offer a myriad of services all under one roof.
That includes access to doctors, nurses, social workers and substance-use counsellors.
“We are bringing services under this one roof that are currently distributed in various sites through the city,” Cameron told Global News.
One of the services that will be offered inside the 11,000 square-foot facility will be a supervised consumption site for drug users.
“They want to feel comfortable and safe using it, knowing that our drug supply is tainted,” Cameron said.
“So they come in, they consume their products that they have acquired with some supervision. It’s staffed with clinical staff who basically monitor for outcomes, so signs of overdose.”
IHA said it can also test drugs if people wish prior to using.
Safe consumption services are not new in Kelowna, but, for the past four years, have been offered out of a retrofitted RV.
“It’s been a success,” said Dr. Silvina Mema, IHA’s medical health officer.
“We have had several overdoses in the mobile and no deaths so many lives have been saved in the supervised consumption.”
But IHA said the RV is no longer meeting the needs of clients or staff.
“Our mobile unit is getting old, it’s getting tired of being set up and taken down four times a day,” Cameron said.
Cameron said IHA is well aware of the concerns that have been expressed by neighbouring businesses, but added it is addressing them, starting with on-site security.
“Security will be in the building all the time when we’re open,” said Cameron.
“And we also partner with Paladin (security), as well as our other municipal partners the Downtown Kelowna Association, Bylaw RCMP to, you know, ensure that the building as well monitored.”
Cameron said a lot of thought has also been put into the design of the building for the safety of clients and the community.
“From the exterior of the building, we’ve been very thoughtful around the placement of lighting … flows of traffic, how we address things that may be perceived negatively around the building,” Cameron said.
According to IHA, a permanent consumption site is also expected to reduce drug use and overdoses out on the streets and in public.
“By bringing it into a location like this, we now have extended hours. We can cater to more individuals, said Mema.
“That will reduce individuals using substances outside, the visible drug use and also the paraphernalia that can be discarded outside when individuals can come inside and use inside.”
Mema said the facility will benefit patients and the community.
“Kelowna is growing as a community and in large urban centres it’s not uncommon to see locations like this,” she said. “A facility like this is going to improve the outcomes for patients.”
IHA will take possession of the building at the end of the month, with services expected to be fully up and running by mid-April.