Saskatchewan government denies new funding for supervised consumption site

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Saskatchewan government denies new funding for supervised consumption site
WATCH: One addiction worker says the budget let down a vulnerable population with Saskatchewan in the midst of an overdose crisis – Apr 6, 2021

The Saskatchewan government has denied Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) new funding to extend its hours.

Jason Mercredi, the executive director of supervised consumption site, said the decision will cost lives.

“It’s pretty clear which direction this government is comfortable heading in, which is hundreds of people dying,” he said.

Mercredi and the PHR team applied for $1.3 million from the provincial government for new staff, including a dozen more paramedics, so the centre could stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

PHR, which is on 20th Street West in Saskatoon, can only afford to stay open during regular business hours, Monday to Friday — which is not, Mercredi said, when many people using drugs need help.

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Mercredi learned PHR wouldn’t receive any additional funding when the Saskatchewan Party unveiled the 2021-22 budget on Tuesday afternoon.

“(The government) can’t keep treating this addictions crisis like it’s a 9-5 issue,” he said.

Mercredi said he was surprised and frustrated when he realized the organization won’t be receiving additional funding.

He said government ministers and Saskatchewan Health Authority officials had been in contact and been very positive towards PHR and the proposal.

He called the refusal “disheartening.”

“(Ministers) have all the power in the world to do something about it, yet they won’t lift a finger.”

A record number of people in Saskatchewan have died from suspected or fatal overdoses since Jan. 1, 2020.

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer told reporters the government will focus on different forms of treatment.

“There are a number of initiatives in balance you need to consider when you need to make your choices,” she said, speaking in Regina.

“I believe the choices that was made in (the health ministry) and with the health minister are all seen to be effective.”

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The Sask Party is increasing the amount of money dedicated to mental health by $23.4 million, raising the total to around $458 million.

Previously funded programs remain largely intact while $16 million of the new money will go towards treating mental health in the hospital system.

Budget documents state $4 million is dedicated to mental health services, including $2 million to establish “up to three provincial locations for a youth-focused initiative,” $1 million to implement the ‘Pillar for Life’ suicide prevention plan and $500,000 for a mental health and awareness campaign, among other items.

$2.6 million will go towards addiction and harm reduction, like spending $440,000 to provide more take-home naloxone kits to prevent overdoses and $750,000 “to establish and equip three innovative buses” that will provide mobile harm reduction services.

The province is also spending $1 million to fund 16 new treatment beds in Estevan.

Dave Nelson, a senior adviser at the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), said the Sask Party should be congratulated for increasing the overall amount spent on mental health.

He said the amount doesn’t match the percentage of health funding dedicated to mental health that CMHA and Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), a federally-funded agency, recommends, but it does show progress.

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“Generally we’re shooting for nine per cent,” he said, speaking via Zoom from Regina.

The CMHA and MHCC state the provincial average across the country is seven per cent, which Saskatchewan now meets.

Nelson also said the CMHA would like to see more community-based, culturally-sensitive and “upstream” initiatives to reduce the amount of mental health treatment given in hospital in the future.

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili said withholding funding for PHR ignores scientific advice.

He said the decision is “all about ideology, instead of about caring enough to help people to get off drugs and to save lives.”

Mental health and addictions minister Everett Hindley said the government chose to focus on expanding access to treatment beds and boosting naloxone kits in order to enhance residents’ access to harm reduction supplies.

He told reporters the mobile bus units will allow those seeking help to discuss treatment plans.

“We’re not going to be able to solve all these challenges in one year,” he said.

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“We’re trying to find an approach that works well for Saskatchewan. We’ll continue to evolve as we go on.”

When asked specifically about the decision not to provide new funding to PHR, Hindley said the government does fund it.

Representatives from the ministries of social services and health said, in emails, the government provides $608,440 and $304,400 from each respective ministry. Both representatives stated the ministries provided the same amount that it allocated last year.

When pressed, the minister said “We know that we have to try our best here to provide a wide-ranging approach to try and make an impact on this challenge.”

Mercredi said he now wonders why Premier Scott Moe bothered to create the mental health cabinet position at all.

“How many deaths is it going to take for some meaningful action on this file?” he said.

He said PHR can afford to stay open with its current hours and staffing through this year and that it will begin selling a new clothing line later this month to raise money.

Click to play video: 'Prairie Harm Reduction asking for $1.3M from Saskatchewan government again'
Prairie Harm Reduction asking for $1.3M from Saskatchewan government again

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