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‘Pretty disturbing’: Supporters rally against defunding of Penticton addictions resource centre

Click to play video: 'Supporters rally against de-funding Penticton’s addictions resource centre' Supporters rally against de-funding Penticton’s addictions resource centre
Approximately two dozen people gathered outside an addictions resource centre in Penticton, B.C., on Sunday in protest of Interior Health's decision to cancel the centre's contracts and bring the counselling services under its own umbrella. As Shelby Thom reports, family members of people struggling with addiction question the timing of the change amid a global pandemic and worsening opioid crisis. – Mar 14, 2021

Approximately two dozen masked and socially-distanced protesters gathered outside an addictions resource centre in Penticton, B.C., on Sunday in protest of funding cuts.

Pathways Addictions Resource Centre has been a cornerstone in the Okanagan city for 47 years. Five counsellors support 1,000 clients per year with their drug and alcohol addiction challenges.

On March 2, the resource centre announced Interior Health will cancel its contracts as of May 31 to bring all substance use counselling services in-house to establish a single point of access.

Read more: Penticton addiction resource centre at risk of closure after loss of funding

Interior Health currently provides $500,000 in annual funding. Without financial support, Pathways said it may not survive.

Supporters rally to save Pathways Addictions Resource Centre in Penticton, B.C. on Sunday, Mar. 14, 2021. Shelby Thom/Global News

Lorna Rissling credits the centre for helping both her son and daughter break free from the grip of addiction. She said if Pathways closes, it would be a major loss for the community.

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“If it hadn’t been for Pathways, neither of my children would be clean today,” she said.

“I think it is probably one of the most devastating things that Interior Health has ever done.”

Click to play video: '“The worst day of my life” Grieving Penticton mother seeks solace at addictions treatment centre, which is slated to close, following son’s overdose death.' “The worst day of my life” Grieving Penticton mother seeks solace at addictions treatment centre, which is slated to close, following son’s overdose death.
“The worst day of my life” Grieving Penticton mother seeks solace at addictions treatment centre, which is slated to close, following son’s overdose death – Mar 8, 2021

Cyndy Ramsay also has a family member who struggled with addiction. She said the resource centre supported her family during a difficult time.

“I have to question this decision now during this time of COVID, when people are isolated, addictions are going up and this is just one more nail in the coffin,” Ramsay said.

Ramsay is concerned possible waitlists to access Interior Health counselling services will create a barrier.

Read more: Concerns grow over future of addictions treatment services in Penticton

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“People who make the decision that they need help to either detox or go to treatment need to get in and have a bed that day,” she said.

Julie Gaal’s son received support from Pathways as he battled addiction.

A supporter expresses disappointment with Interior Health’s decision to cut funding to Pathways to bring addiction counselling services in-house. Shelby Thom/Global News

“I find it pretty disturbing actually,” she said of the funding cuts.

“Pathways is something that people can come to when they need help, be it mental health, be it addiction and alcoholism, and it’s really helpful to have the amount of dedication and compassion that Pathways has,” Gaal said.

“Interior Health will not be able to meet the same level of care that Pathways does.”

Kim Row is grateful her son also received the support he needed when overcoming addiction. She credits the centre for saving her child’s life.

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Read more: Facing closure, Penticton addiction treatment centre starts online fundraiser

“The service that Pathways provides is priceless, it’s not a model that can be copied by a huge conglomerate like Interior Health,” Row said.

“Pathways gave him hope, they gave him the pathway home.”

Mark Smed accessed services in 2002 after he was hospitalized with severe addiction issues. He’s now the vice-president of the Pathways board of directors.

Click to play video: '“This is a service that just can’t go away,” Concerns grow over impending closure of Penticton addictions treatment centre.' “This is a service that just can’t go away,” Concerns grow over impending closure of Penticton addictions treatment centre.
“This is a service that just can’t go away,” Concerns grow over impending closure of Penticton addictions treatment centre – Mar 3, 2021

He said staff have established trust with clients and the uncertainty caused by the change may be problematic.

“We’re not even sure how many of those 1,000 clients are going to be willing to transition to Interior Health,” Smed said.

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“When people hit bottom or are suddenly faced with the consequences of their drug and alcohol use, establishing a trust relationship is critically important. People are really broken at that point.”

Interior Health did not make anyone available for an interview on Sunday, but said in a statement the change will improve mental health and substance use services in the South Okanagan.

“Interior Health can assure the community that no services are being reduced, in fact, programs will increase, and we are committed to ensuring the client transition is seamless and supported,” an unidentified spokesperson said in an email.

Supporters remain unconvinced.

They’d like to see a path forward for Pathways.

“I’d like to see Pathways continue, it’s saved a lot of lives and it’s saved a lot of families,” Gaal said.

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