After three years of operating two registered recovery houses, in January 2016 Cole Izsak found what he believed — and still believes — is the perfect place.
But before taking possession, the owner and executive-director of Back on Track Recovery applied to the provincial health ministry to essentially grandfather his operation and transfer the registration of one of his houses to the new site.
Because Back on Track has never had any substantiated complaints, he didn’t expect any problems and, a month later, shut the registered house and opened a four-plex now called The Fortress.
The next month, Izsak closed one of the two houses that were registered by the provincial government and moved to the new compound with internal, off-street parking at 9889-140th Street in Surrey.
He still wasn’t concerned when in May, the ministry said it was putting a hold on his application while both the province and Surrey were formulating new regulations.
Since then, it is rare that any of the 40 beds — two per bedroom in each of the five-bedroom houses — are empty.
While Back on Track continues to operate the one registered house, The Fortress remains unregistered, with only two of four business licenses that it needs.
For the last 2½ years, Surrey’s bylaw inspectors have been telling Izsak that unless all four houses at The Fortress get their provincial registry, the city can’t license the houses until the registration from the health ministry comes through, certifying that services offered meet its standards of care.
In mid-May, Back on Track and its residents were told that the licenses were being revoked and the four houses would have to close at the end of July. It has since been given a reprieve, pending a decision from the provincial registrar.
“If Mr. Izsak’s registration comes through, we’ll be prepared to do our own inspections for renewal or issuance of the licenses,” bylaw services manager Kim Marosevich said this week.
In late May, after Maggie Plett first spoke publicly about her son Zachary’s death at another Surrey recovery house called Step by Step, Addictions Minister Judy Darcy told News 1130, “We’re trying to make up for lost time over the past many, many years since the scandal started to break.
“But I would expect that we will have new, stronger regulations and enforcement in place by the end of the year.”
Throughout all of this, the government has paid Back on Track the $30.90 per diem that covers the cost of room, board and recovery services for each welfare recipient living there — a rate that has remained unchanged for 16 years.
Izsak doesn’t know why the ministry has yet to make a decision on his application. The mental health and addictions ministry has not yet responded to my questions about it.
On Tuesday, Izsak gave me a tour of the four neatly kept houses. He showed me the well-supplied pantry where residents are free to take whatever food they want and as much as they want. There is also an open-air gym and smoking lounge. Every room has a naloxone kit in case of an opioid overdose, and every few weeks, residents are given training on how to use them.
The half-dozen residents that I spoke to privately — including one who said he had been in at least 20 such facilities — said The Fortress is the best. They talked about feeling safe, well-cared for, and even loved.
Izsak makes no apology for not having more set programming in the houses.
“People who are coming off the street or out of prison are not going to surrender to eight hours of programs per day,” he said. “But what they will surrender to is coming to a place like this where they are fed well, have a clean bed, a TV, and programming from 9 a.m. until noon.”
He acknowledged that there are no certified counsellors or therapists working there. He devised a recovery program called MECCA based on his own experiences in recovery that is delivered by others who are in recovery.
Izsak also said he cannot afford to hire certified addictions counsellors and specialized therapists, as they do at recovery houses where monthly rates are anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000 a month.
Right now, registered facilities don’t require that, according to the registry’s website.
What’s required is that all staff and volunteers “must have the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities and training to perform their tasks and meet the health and safety of residents.”
Far from bridling at more regulations, Izsak has a long list of his own that he would like the province to enact to weed out bad operators.
It includes random site inspections, manager-on-duty logbooks documenting what happens every two hours from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., and a requirement that all operators provide their expense receipts.
After three recent deaths in recovery houses, Izsak is now a man on a mission.
“I want to close operations that are bad so that I’m not treated almost like a criminal because they acted unscrupulously.”
Nearly a year before two young man died of fentanyl overdoses in houses operated by the Step by Step Recovery Home Society, the B.C. Health Ministry had investigated and substantiated complaints that it was failing to meet the most basic standards.
Within nine days of each other in December 2018, 21-one-year-old Zachary Plett and an unnamed,35-year-old died in different houses operated by the non-profit society that has a total of five houses in Surrey.
A month earlier, inspectors had substantiated complaints at all five houses. According to the ministry’s assisted living registry website, none met the most basic standard of providing residents with safe and nutritious food.
None had staff and volunteers with the skills or qualifications needed to do their jobs. There was no counselling support for residents at any of the houses or any transitional help for those who were leaving.
Late last week, Step by Step closed its house at 132nd Street where Zach died. In a brief conversation Thursday, director Deborah Johnson said it was done “voluntarily.” She promised to call back after speaking to the other directors and staff. But that call didn’t come.
Late Thursday, a spokesperson for the Addictions Ministry said the assisted living registrar was aware that two Step by Step houses had been voluntarily closed, but was still attempting to confirm the closures.
Up until May, Step by Step had taken action on only one of the 65 substantiated complaints. It got rid of the mice at its house at 8058-138A Street in November. But it took 18 days from the time the inspectors were there before the exterminators arrived.
Despite all that, all five houses have maintained their spots on the government’s registry.
What that means is that the social development ministry has continued paying $30.90 a day for each of the 45 residents who are on welfare.
It also means that anyone ordered by the court to go to an addictions recovery house as part of their probation can be sent there.
In late May, Plett’s mother and others filed more complaints about Step by Step that have yet to be posted. But a spokesperson for the mental health and addictions ministry confirmed that they are being investigated.
Plett is incredulous. “My son died there and nothing’s been done,” she said this week.
In an email, the ministry spokesperson confirmed that no enforcement action has been taken and that there is no specific timeline for the investigation to be completed.
“The review of complaints is a complex issue that can often involve a number of agencies conducting their own investigations (which can also require a staged process),” she wrote.
“Each case is different and requires appropriate due diligence. Throughout the process of addressing non-compliance, as operators shift and improve the way they provide service, new assessments are conducted and status is updated online within 30 days.”
A senseless death
Two days after Zach Plett arrived at 9310-132nd Street in Surrey, he was dead. According to the coroner, he died between 9 a.m. and noon on Dec. 15, 2018. But his body wasn’t discovered until 4 p.m.
Plett described what she saw when went to collect Zach’s belongings.
“The house was horrible. The walls were dirty. The ceiling was stained. My son’s bed sheets were mouldy.
“His body was already taken. But the bed was soaking wet with his bodily fluids. There was graffiti on the furniture. The drape was just a hanging blanket. It was filthy.”
To add insult to grief and despair, Plett noticed that his roommate was wearing Zach’s shoes.
Worse than the state of house is the fact that Zach died in the daytime and it was at least four hours before anybody noticed.
Plett wants to know why nobody had checked on Zach? Were there no structured programs where his absence would have been noticed? Didn’t anyone wonder why he missed breakfast and lunch?
“I had no idea what it was like or I would never have sent him,” said Plett.
After battling addiction for seven years, Zach had spent the previous three months in Gimli, Man. and what Plett describes as an excellent facility that cost $40,000.
But Zach wanted to come home, despite Plett’s concerns about omnipresent fentanyl in Metro Vancouver. They agreed that he couldn’t live with her.
A trusted friend gave Plett the name of a recovery house and within a week of returning to British Columbia, Zach went to Into Action’s house in Surrey. It is a government-registered facility that has never had a substantiated complaint against it.
Because he wasn’t on welfare, his mother E-transferred $950 to Into Action to cover his first month’s stay. She was told that the staff would help Zach do the paperwork to get him on the welfare roll.
Later that day, Zach called his mother, asking her to bring him a clean blanket and pillow because the house was dirty.
Because family members aren’t allowed into the house, Plett met him at the end of the driveway to hand over the bedding. It was the last time she saw Zach.
The next day, Dec. 13, he called to say that he had been “kicked out” for “causing problems.” He told Plett that it was because he’d complained about the house and asked to see the consent form that he’d signed.
Later that day, someone from Into Action drove Zach to Step by Step’s house on 132nd Street. Two days later, he was dead.
Because of the confidentiality clause in the informed consent forms signed by all residents, Into Action executive director Chris Burwash would not even confirm that Zach had been a resident.
But he said before signing those forms, residents are given “a clear outline of the expectations of them” and “a clear description of what the rules are.”
They are told that there are no second chances if they break the rules.
“If they outright refuse to participate or outright breach our zero tolerance policies — violence or threats of violence, using illicit substances, intentional damage to facility, etc. — we are put in a position where it is impossible for us to allow them to stay. We have to ask them to leave,” he said.
Staff provide them with a list of other government-registered recovery houses and sit with them while they make their choice without any advice or interference, Burwash said. Once a place is found, Into Action staff will take them there.
Burwash emphasized that only registered recovery houses are on the list, which speaks to the importance of the governments registry. But he said it’s frustrating that operators don’t comply with registry standards since their failures reflects badly on all recovery houses.
“We absolutely support the media shining a light on the facilities that are operating below the standards that they agreed to abide by,” he said. “We are certainly not one of them.”
He invited me to visit any time.
On Dec. 14, Zach and his roommate went to an evening Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Plett found the sign-in sheet from the meeting when she collecting his belongings the following day.
“What he and Billy (his roommate) did between then and early morning, I don’t know,” she said. But another resident told her that she thought they were “using” until around 5 a.m.
The toxicology report from the coroner indicated that the amount of fentanyl found in his system was no more than what is given cancer patients for pain control. But because Zach hadn’t taken opioids for six months, his tolerance for fentanyl was minimal.
“Had he died in the middle of the night, I would never have gone public with his story. But he died in the daytime. If they’d woken him up for breakfast or tried … ” said Plett, leaving the rest unspoken.
“He wasn’t monitored. He wasn’t watched … If I had known I would never have sent him there.”
Last week, Plett had an hour-long meeting with Addictions Minister Judy Darcy and the mother of the other young man who overdosed. He died Christmas Eve at another Step by Step. His body was only discovered on Dec. 26 after other residents kicked in the door of the bathroom where he was locked inside.
“She (Darcy) was very genuine and sympathetic,” Plett said. “I don’t think she realized how bad the situation is.”
Problems left unresolved
Step by Step’s first non-compliance reports date back to an inspection done Jan. 23, 2018 at its house at 11854-97A Street in Surrey.
Inspectors found that meals were neither safely prepared nor nutritious. Staffing didn’t meet the residents’ needs. Staff and volunteers weren’t qualified, capable or knowledgeable.
On Nov. 2, they returned. Nothing had changed and more problems were found.
The house didn’t safely accommodate the needs of residents and staff. Site management wasn’t adequate. There was no support for people transitioning out of the residence.
Critically, there were no psychosocial supports to assist individuals to work toward long-term recovery, maximized self-sufficiency, enhanced quality of life and reintegration into the community. Those supports include things like counselling, education, group therapy and individual sessions with psychologists, social workers, peer-support counsellors or others with specialized training.
On Feb. 4 and March 27, inspectors went back again because of a fresh set of complaints. As of May 8, none of the substantiated complaints had been addressed.
On the same day in November that inspectors were at the 97A Street house, they also went to Step by Step’s other four houses in Surrey — 132nd Street where Zach Plett died, 78A Avenue where the other man died, 13210-89th Avenue and 8058 138A Street. Step by Step doesn’t own any of the houses, but one of it directors, Deborah Johnson, is listed as the owner of 138A Street.
Not every house had the same complaints. But all of the complaints were substantiated and there were commonalities.
None had provided properly prepared nutritious food. None had adequate, knowledgeable or capable staff. Not one house was suitable for its use.
None supported residents’ transition to other accommodation or provided psychosocial support.
Since then, there have been repeated inspectors’ visits but the last posted reports indicate that nothing has change.
The first of five guiding principles for the province’s assisted living registry is protecting the health and safety of residents. Promoting client-centred services is also on the list. But then it gets a bit fuzzy.
Others are to “investigate complaints using an incremental, remedial approach” and to “value the perspectives of stakeholders — i.e. residents and their families/caregivers, community advocates for seniors and people with mental health and substance use problems, residents, operators, health authorities and other agencies.”
But as a result of this incremental, remedial approach and seeking of stakeholders’ perspectives, there were two preventable deaths.
What more do inspectors need before the registration for these five houses is cancelled? How much more time will the province give Step by Step to bring them into compliance?
And, how much longer will the ministry of social development continue writing cheques of close to $42,000 each month to an organization that can’t even comply with the most basic standards?
British Columbia is four years into a public health emergencies that has cost 4,483 lives since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.
More than a year ago, a coroner’s death review urged better regulation, evaluation and monitoring of both public and private treatment facilities following the 2016 overdose death of a 20-year-old in a Powell River recovery house.
It’s unconscionable that the government continues to waste precious resources on substandard recovery houses, while doing so little to force bad operators into compliance. At a time when good quality services are more desperately needed than ever, the registry ought to be the place that vulnerable addicts and their loved ones can find those.
Until this is fixed, Maggie Plett is likely right to believe that Zach would have been better off homeless. At least on the street, someone might have noticed him and done something to help.
VICTORIA — A British Columbia pediatrician who treats children and youth struggling with substance abuse issues says he supports placing young people in treatment facilities against their will if they’ve suffered an overdose.
Dr. Tom Warshawski, who treats youth in the Kelowna area, told a coroner’s inquest into the death of 16-year-old Elliot Eurchuk that an overdose is a life-and-death situation where a young person’s brain and actions are being controlled by the potentially deadly drugs.
Warshawski said Thursday that committing young people to secure treatment facilities where they can’t leave for a time period of about one week at least allows doctors to help clean the drugs out of their systems and open their minds to the possibility of future treatment.
“It’s not a panacea,” he said. “It’s not a guarantee of success. I think it’s an important tool that needs to be looked at. The choice is involuntary (treatment) versus continued life-threatening behaviour.”
Eurchuk died of an overdose in 2018 about two months after he was forcefully admitted to a Victoria youth treatment ward for a week-long stay.
The inquest heard his parents took the action when he overdosed in hospital on illicit drugs. At the time, he was undergoing treatment for a blood infection that is common to intravenous drug users.
Eurchuk’s parents, Rachel Staples and Brock Eurchuk, have testified efforts to help their son were thwarted by medical privacy laws that allowed information to be kept from them about the teen’s addiction issues.
Eurchuk denied using street drugs to his parents and doctors, and it was only after his overdose in February 2018 that he started talking about drug use with his family doctor. He refused to allow his parents into the discussion, the inquest has heard.
Warshawski said patient confidentiality is an important issue, but when it involves young people and it is life-threatening, parents should know.
“Opioid overdose is at the extreme end of risk of death, and certainly we would disclose,” he said.
Warshawski said he is part of a working group that has provided recent research documents about secure care treatment for young people to B.C.’s Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
“When it’s life and death, we really have to get our act together,” he said.
Warshawski called the acceptance of voluntary youth drug treatment the “best possible situation.” But he said current waits of up to 12 weeks for treatment beds for youth in B.C. is “scandalous.”
He said there is little geographical co-ordination between health officials about available beds for young people, meaning a teen in Kelowna volunteering for drug treatment could be denied immediate help even if there is an available bed at a facility in North Vancouver or Prince George.
Dr. Alice Virani, B.C.’s top clinical medical ethicist, testified Thursday that many options, including treatment effectiveness and fairness to the patient, must be considered before a youth is committed to secure drug treatment.
“It’s never undertaken lightly,” she said. “In certain circumstances, secure care might be justified.”
Virani said youth treatment for eating disorders in B.C. involves placing young people in secure care.
Former B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall was also scheduled to testify later at the inquest, which is coming to a close after hearing from more than 40 witnesses over eight days.
All indications suggest British Columbians should prepare for another smoky summer this year, experts warned today.
B.C. Wildfire information shows the province has so far this year seen increased drought and higher-than-average temperatures, which are expected to continue. Experts are predicting a greater risk of wildfires and smoke in the province this summer, particularly in the southwest, which includes Metro Vancouver.
Metro Vancouver air quality engineer Francis Reis said more studies are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
“As we continue to see further warming, we can expect the patterns we are seeing now to continue or even get more extreme,” he said.
Residents are reminded to try to stay indoors when air quality bulletins are issued.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies in B.C., caused by wildfires. This led to warnings that people take caution when outside, especially those with asthma, lung conditions, the elderly and pregnant women.
The hot, dry spring has many worried that 2019 could also bring hazy skies that are bad for residents’ health.
Kelsey Lock’s ideal Father’s Day involves eating ice cream in the park with his daughter — a simple plan, but one bordering on miraculous.
Lock’s daughter, Charlie, was born with erythropoietic protoporphyria or EPP, a disease sometimes described as an allergy to the sun. Since she was a baby, ultraviolet light, even in minuscule amounts, would cause the little girl’s skin to burn, blister and swell. More insidious, it would also begin to destroy her liver.
As a result, Charlie’s life was lived inside. The world beyond the tinted glass of her Langley home was largely unknown to the toddler, now 3.
“Any time we’d see a playground, it was rough,” recalled Lock. “To see other kids playing outside and know that Charlie could never do that was really hard.”
Late last year, Charlie’s liver began to fail. It is impossible to prevent all exposure to ultraviolet light. Unseen, porphyrins had been accumulating in the toddler’s liver, causing it to swell to three times its normal size.
People with EPP have a shortage of an enzyme that metabolizes porphyrins, which help with the production of hemoglobin. Without the enzyme, porphyrins accumulate in the blood, reacting with sunlight to cause burns. In a small percentage of people with EPP, including Charlie, they also accumulate in the liver.
To save his daughter’s life, Lock was asked to donate part of his liver. The family travelled to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for the procedure. Working in a darkened operating room, a surgeon removed Charlie’s damaged liver and gave her a piece of her dad’s liver.
“I don’t think about it too much,” said Lock, “but every now and then, it hits me. I can say that I’ll always be there for her, and it’s literally true. I will.”
But Charlie’s journey — from the family apartment with tinted windows in Langley to a park in Toronto on Father’s Day — was only beginning.
Doctors told the family they were essentially rewriting the playbook with Charlie’s case. Porphyria is rare, and EPP rarer still. Charlie’s form, which destroys the liver, hasn’t been the subject of much research. But because the toddler still had porphyria, the cause of her liver failure hadn’t been addressed by the transplant. The cycle would begin again.
So Lock was tapped to donate his bone marrow. A perfect match would give Charlie’s body the ability to create the enzyme that breaks down porphyrins, essentially curing both her liver problems and sun allergy. But no one in Charlie’s family was a perfect match. Because the girl has two exceptionally rare genetic markers, there were no matches on the international bone marrow registry either.
Still, doctors believed there was a good chance Lock’s bone marrow could at least prevent the destruction of Charlie’s new liver.
“The idea is that the bone marrow reprograms your entire blood-making system, but how well that would work was unclear,” explained Charlie’s mom, Bekah Lock.
In February, Kelsey Lock watched as blood was drawn from his body and passed through a sophisticated machine that looked like a “crazy water clock” to filter the stem cells from the rest. A few days before the procedure, he’d been given a medication that caused his bone marrow cells to leach into his blood, which left him feeling strange.
“I could feel all my bones,” he said. “When I stood up fast, I’d feel pressure in my ribs.”
Lock’s bone marrow was given to Charlie, after her own bone marrow and immune system had been wiped out by two weeks of chemotherapy.
Almost four months after the procedure, the family remains hesitant to use the word “cure.”
The transplant was largely a success. Early results showed 100 per cent engraftment, which meant Charlie’s bone marrow cells had been replaced by her dad’s cells and they were functioning as they should. The number has dropped a little since then.
“I’d say cautiously optimistic,” said Bekah, when asked how the family is feeling about the future.
After eight months in Toronto, the family wants to come home. Charlie still has several small hurdles to clear related to the liver transplant. The doctors are also monitoring her bone marrow numbers. Her immune system remains severely compromised from the transplants. But the family has been told they could be back in B.C. by fall.
Charlie’s first foray into the world outside her window was a quiet affair.
A few days before, her parents brought her to the wall of windows fronting the hospital. As they looked over the city, the little girl seemed content and comfortable despite the light flooding the corridor.
In early April, Charlie received permission to leave the hospital for a few hours. Instead of bundling her into a vehicle with tinted windows, the family walked in the sunshine to their apartment at Ronald McDonald House.
“I kept the cover off the stroller,” said Bekah. “It was kind of anti-climatic in a way, but it was also very, very sweet.”
For Kelsey Lock, the time in Toronto has been an opportunity to spend unlimited hours with Charlie. On leave from his job as a framer, he said it feels like he’s being “forced to take a vacation.”
His Father’s Day will be about simple pleasures: An ice cream cone, a park and a little girl with the whole world before her.
Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove has requested a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix to express his concerns about the temporary closure of Chilliwack Hospital’s maternity ward. Francis Georgian / PNG
The mayor of Chilliwack is requesting a meeting with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix to express concerns about a plan to close the maternity ward at Chilliwack Hospital for an indeterminate amount of time starting later this month.
The closure is caused by an “unexpected shortfall in obstetricians,” said Jennifer Wilson, medical director for Chilliwack Hospital. Due to a medical leave, the hospital is no longer able to ensure there is an on-call obstetrician available for emergency interventions and C-sections at all times.
Fraser Health is working on a plan to address the problem, but women who expected to give birth in Chilliwack after June 24 will have to go to Abbotsford Regional Hospital instead, said Wilson. “Our goal is to be up and running again as soon as possible.”
The doctor said the decision to close the maternity ward was not made lightly and she “respects” the concerns of women who are now faced with travelling outside their community to deliver. “We are really committed to making things as safe as possible for women.”
But Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove said it is “insane” that his community of 100,000 people will not have a maternity ward this summer. On average, there is between one to two births per day at Chilliwack Hospital.
“I understand that it’s difficult (for Fraser Health), but there should have been a plan in place,” he said.
The mayor said he is asking for a meeting with the provincial health minister to discuss the situation. He has also spoken to the mayor of Hope who is worried about the health of women who will have to travel more than an hour — possibly in rush-hour or long-weekend traffic — to reach the hospital in Abbotsford.
“It’s an hour on a good day. What happens if there’s an accident?” asked Popove.
The mayor said he hasn’t been told when Fraser Health plans to reopen the maternity ward. But he has been hearing from families in his community who are worried and anxious.
Former Chilliwack mayor and B.C. Liberal MLA John Les called the closure “a kick in the head” in response to a Chilliwack Progress news story about the closure.
“This is a bloody outrage,” he said in a Facebook post.
“If implemented, this two- to three-month suspension of deliveries will become permanent,” he speculated. “This has been Fraser Health’s dream all along: centralize everything in Abbotsford.”
Wilson said the hospital plans to maintain its maternity ward and is looking for long-term solutions to the staffing problem. It is also working to address transportation concerns from women who may have trouble reaching Abbotsford.
“We have reassurances from Abbotsford … (that) they have the capacity,” she said.
But registered midwife Libby Gregg said the closure is making women “fearful” about their deliveries.
“They are really suffering,” she said, explaining that some women will lose the doctor who has cared for them through their entire pregnancy because the doctor doesn’t have hospital privileges at the Abbotsford hospital.
“These women will be in an unfamiliar situation with people they don’t know,” she said.
Gregg said an increase in stress and anxiety in the late stages of pregnancy and during delivery can have negative impacts on mothers and babies, including a possible increase in inductions and C-sections.
“The implications are huge and far-reaching.”
Gregg said Chilliwack midwives are stepping up to offer their services to women who are scrambling to find a caregiver ahead of the closure, adding “we’re here to support as many families as we can.”
A child was hospitalized Friday afternoon after falling two storeys from a Vancouver home.
It happened in the 1200-block of East 11th Avenue around 2:45 p.m., a B.C. Emergency Health Services spokesman said. Paramedics tool the child to hospital by ambulance.
The agency could not confirm whether the child fell from a window or balcony and would not release the child’s age or gender.
The block where they child fell, near Clark Drive, is lined with single-family homes, most two storeys.
Paramedics and physicians have urged parents to install inexpensive window guards to prevent such accidents, particularly during warm weather when windows are more likely to be left open.
Six children have been treated at B.C. Children’s Hospital this year after falling from balconies or windows, and 15 were treated in 2018.
Last month, a six-year-old boy fell 15 metres from his bedroom window in North Vancouver, landing on concrete. He survived and is expected to make a near-full recovery, with some damage to his vision.
The World Health Organization says falls are the 12th-leading cause of death among kids aged five to nine, and that 66 per cent of fatal falls happen from a significant height, like a deck or window.
A B.C. Trauma Registry report found that 146 children were hospitalized after falling from a balcony in the province between 2009 and 2015. Eighty-five per cent of them were between the ages of one and six.
Over 40 per cent of Vancouverites now live in apartment buildings and more than 16 per cent live in buildings with more than five storeys, according to a 2016 Statistics Canada report.
B.C. Emergency Health Services provides the following safety tips to prevent falls from windows:
• Don’t underestimate a child’s mobility; children begin climbing before they can walk.
• Move furniture and household items away from windows to discourage children from climbing to peer out.
• Be particularly mindful of toddlers, who may climb on anything to get higher.
• Remember that window screens will not prevent children from falling through. They keep bugs out – not children in.
• Install window guards on windows above the ground level. These act as a gate in front of the window.
• Alternatively, fasten your windows so that they cannot open more than 10 centimetres (four inches). Children can fit through spaces as small as 12 centimetres (five inches) wide.
• In either case, ensure there is a safe release option for your windows in case of a house fire.
• Don’t leave children unattended on balconies or decks. Move furniture or planters away from the edges to keep kids from climbing up and over.
• Talk to your children about the dangers of opening and playing near windows, particularly on upper floors of the home or in a high-rise dwelling.
• Consider installing safety glass in large windows and French doors so they won’t shatter if a child runs or falls into them.
B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver announces a bill to ban so-called conversion therapies that seek to change gay sexual orientations in minors. Rob Shaw / Postmedia
VICTORIA — B.C.’s Green party has introduced a bill in the legislature to ban so-called conversion therapies that seek to change gay sexual orientations in minors.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the legislation, if passed, would ban any medical professional from using conversion therapy techniques on anyone under age 19.
For adults, it would forbid any counselling, behaviour modification techniques or prescription medication designed to change a person’s sexual identity or gender identity from being billed to the government for MSP or other reimbursement.
The legislation doesn’t seek an outright ban on conversion therapy for adults, with Weaver noting that it becomes a more complicated matter of consent and free choice among adults.
“This bill will bring an end to the abhorrent practice of so-called conversion therapy,” said Weaver.
Banning the practice among minors and restricting its use on adults will “protect the health and safety of LGBTQ rights,” said Weaver.
Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using counselling, psychiatry, psychology, behaviour modification or medication. It’s widely discredited, though not explicitly illegal in Canada.
In B.C., the government doesn’t fund or permit the practice of conversion therapy, said NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert.
“This legislation would put our current practice into law,” he said.
Chandra-Herbert described it as a “symbol” of not just LGBTQ2S+ rights, but also basic human rights.
Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Ontario already have legislation that restricts the practice.
Alberta had a working group tasked with banning gay conversion therapy, but it was cancelled by the new United Conservative Government.
“The direction Alberta is going in is the wrong direction for Canadian society,” said Weaver. “It’s so regressive.”
Peter Gajdics, a Vancouver gay rights activist who was subject to conversion therapy from a licensed psychiatrist in Victoria almost 30 years ago, said he believes conversion therapy is still occurring in some B.C. offices under the guise of treatment for depression and other disorders.
Gajdics pointed to religious websites that also promote and advocate for such therapies.
Weaver said he hopes to gain the support of the governing NDP and Opposition Liberals to pass the legislation unanimously this fall.
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New research debunks the supposed mental health benefits of eating your own placenta.
UBC and the B.C. Mental Health and Substance Use Services’ Research Institute says their study found no difference in the mental health of mothers who had eaten their placenta versus those who had not.
The data came from a 10-year genetic study involving 138 women with a history of mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder. Lead investigator Jehannine Austin says the comparison took into account a mother’s psychiatric diagnosis, medication use, age and income.
She says moms who had consumed their placenta did not have more energy, had no increase in their vitamin B12 levels, and required no less help breastfeeding than those who had not consumed their placentas. She adds that eating one’s placenta also did not appear to worsen mental health.
Nevertheless, Austin discourages the practice in light of Health Canada’s warning late last year that it could lead to bacterial or viral infections in mothers or their babies.
Austin’s study was published online Thursday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.
Proponents of human placenta preparations believe it helps prevent postpartum depression, overcome anemia, increase energy levels and boost breast milk production.
Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Alicia Silverstone and Hilary Duff are among the famous moms who have popularized the trend, in which the organ is sometimes dehydrated and put into capsules, but it has drawn increasing scrutiny in the medical community.
“People are taking them because they see celebrities in the news doing it and they talk about their experience with doing it and so other women think, ‘Oh that sounds like a good idea,”‘ said Austin, executive director of the research institute and a professor in medicine at UBC.
“But the point that we’re trying to really make, having analyzed our data, is that there’s no evidence from our study to suggest that this actually helps in any way.
“It doesn’t help with mood, it doesn’t help with energy, it doesn’t help with nutrition levels and it doesn’t help with breastfeeding.”
A man injects drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Despite significant efforts to combat overdose deaths in British Columbia, the provincial coroner says illicit drug overdose deaths increased to 1,489, just over the 2017 death total. JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS
The problem with the provincial health officer’s special report recommending decriminalization of all illicit drug users is that Dr. Bonnie Henry chose to make that her only recommendation.
Three years after a public health emergency was declared because of an epidemic of deaths from illicit opioids, B.C. still has no comprehensive addictions strategy.
It has a stunning lack of treatment services, no universal access to services, no simple pathway to what few services there are, no provincial standards or regulation of privately operated treatment and recovery homes services.
Government ministries such as health, mental health and addictions services, social development and housing remain siloed and the root causes of addiction remain largely unaddressed.
While there has been substantial investment in harm-reduction measures including overdose prevention sites, free naloxone kits (to reverse an opioid overdose), low-barrier shelters and poverty reduction, the needs are greater.
Overdose deaths have only hit a plateau – not dropped. Every day, four people British Columbians die.
Yet, Henry is adamant that decriminalization is the most important next step.
“It’s about a focus and an intent,” she said. “Instead of police focusing on requirement of the Criminal Code, it builds off-ramps to connect with services. And, that in itself, ensures those systems are built.”
The majority of those who have died of overdoses were young men using alone at home. Without fear of being arrested and with the stigma of addiction being reduced, the expectation is that addicts or recreational users would be more likely to go to a supervised injection site, use with a friend (with a naloxone kit at the ready) or call for help if they overdose.
Henry calls decriminalization “a necessary next step to stop the death toll from rising and to make harm-reduction services more readily available.”
But it’s a question whether those recreational users would do that, because many addicts say that they use alone for a variety of reasons — not least of which is that they don’t want to share their drugs or they don’t want anyone to know what they do when they’re high.
The report recommended two options for British Columbia to work around the Criminal Code provisions.
Solicitor General Mike Farnworth firmly and quickly said no to both. But he noted there are pilot projects in Vancouver, Abbotsford and Vernon where rather than charging for possession, police are linking users with services. An evaluation of those will be completed in the fall and, depending on the results, they may be expended to other communities.
Henry makes no secret of the fact that her ultimate goals for Canada are full legalization and regulation of all drugs to ensure that there is a safe supply. If that were to happen, Canada would be the first in the world to do that.
Portugal is mentioned frequently in the report and by Henry. Possession for personal use was decriminalized more than 20 years ago. But it was done only as part of a comprehensive, drug strategy.
Police still arrest anyone found with illicit drugs. They are taken to a police station where the drugs are weighed. If the amount is above the maximum limit set for personal use, they are charged and go through the criminal justice system.
If the amount is below the limit, tickets are issued and users told to appear at the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use within 24 hours. There, they meet with a social worker or counsellor before going before a three-person tribunal, which recommends a plan for treatment.
People don’t have to comply. But if they are arrested again, the commission can impose community service, require that they seek treatment, impose fines and even confiscate people’s property to pay those fines.
That’s not the kind of decriminalization Henry is recommending. Instead, the onus here would be on police officers – not trained addictions specialists, psychologists or social workers — to connect users with services.
Part of the reason for the difference is that Portugal’s goal wasn’t legalization or keeping addicts alive until they chose to go treatment. Its focus was and is on getting addicts into treatment and recovery so they could resume their place in society.
Harm reduction is only a small part of the Portuguese plan. Its first supervised injection site has only recently opened. But there is free and easy access to methadone (which dampens heroin addicts’ craving for the drug) and free needles to stop the spread of infection.
These harm reduction measures are deemed to temporary bridges to abstinence for all but older, hardcore, long-term heroin users rather than long-term solutions. Of course, fentanyl and carfentanil have yet to be found in its illicit drug supply.
Its treatment services as extensive and include everything from outpatient treatment to three years’ residency in a therapeutic community during which time the users’ families are provided with income supplements.
Nothing in this decriminalization report moves British Columbia anywhere close to that kind of comprehensive system. And until we get there, it’s hard to imagine that this overdose crisis ending anytime soon.
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