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Category "Ministry of Social Development"

9Aug

Daphne Bramham: Why won’t B.C. fund Karly’s addiction recovery?

by admin

As of today, Karly has been clean and sober for 30 days after four years of battling addiction.

Addiction made the 17-year-old from Chiliwack vulnerable to exploitation and bullying. It disrupted her schooling, left her psychotic, suicidal, near death and unable to care for her year-old baby.

“In addiction, I never thought I could be this happy without drugs,” she said earlier this week.

“There’s obviously times when I’m feeling like I don’t want to live any more. But I realize a lot of people do care for me, and it would hurt a lot of people if I did leave.”

Up until now, Karly didn’t worry that fentanyl laced in the cocaine, crystal meth and other street drugs she’s used might kill her, as it has more than 4,000 other British Columbians in the past four years.

“Honestly, I just thought I wasn’t going to get that wrong batch. I thought I could trust my dealers. Now, I’m starting to realize the risk. I was using alone. It’s pretty scary now that I think about it.

“I could have overdosed, my poor son he would have had no mom.”

But Karly’s recovery is at risk because the B.C. government is refusing to pay for her treatment. The question of why was bounced from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, back to addictions, then back to MCFD, and finally to Fraser Health over two days.

Friday afternoon, MCFD responded that due to privacy concerns it could not discuss the specifics of the case.

The spokesperson did confirm that the government pays for youth residential treatment. Funds are allocated by the health ministry to regional health authorities. MCFD social workers are supposed to refer youth and families to the health authority, which is supposed to do the assessments and placements.

Reached late Friday afternoon, Fraser Health said that it does not have provincial funding for youth beds at Westminster House, where Karly is getting treatment, only adult beds.

Postmedia editors and I are also concerned about Karly’s privacy and vulnerability. For that reason, we are not using her real name, or that of her mother.

•••

On July 10, her mother Krista found Karly white-faced and barely breathing on the floor. It was a moment she had been bracing for since 2015.

Krista, who is a nurse, didn’t need the naloxone kit that she keeps at the ready. She shook Karly awake and got her into the car to take her to Surrey Creekside Withdrawal Management Centre.

En route, Karly flailed about, kicking in the glove box, banging her head against the window and screaming.

“She was in psychosis. She was not my child,” Krista said. “It took six nurses and two doctors to get her inside.”

At 9 p.m, Karly called her mom to say that if they didn’t let her out, she was going to escape, prostitute myself and get enough money to kill herself.

“I felt in my heart that she was really going to do it.”

Panicked, Krista called Susan Hogarth, Westminster House’s executive director, and begged for help. Westminster House is a residential treatment centre for women, with four designated youth beds in New Westminster.

Even though it was past midnight, Hogarth agreed to take Karly.

“We can’t not put a child somewhere,” Hogarth said this week.

The cost for treatment at Westminster House is $9,000 a month, meaning Krista needs $27,000 to pay for the three months of treatment that counsellors say Karly needs to be stabilized enough to go into second-stage care.

The crucial first month of treatment was covered using donations from individuals, and Hockey for the Homeless.

Now there are bills to be paid.

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Krista’s only contact with the government has been through MCFD. A social worker helped Karly get mental health services, pre- and post-natal care and helped Krista gain guardianship of her year-old grandson last month.

It’s the social worker who told the family that the government would pay for a 10-week, co-ed live-in treatment program at Vancouver’s Peak House, but not Westminster House.

But Krista and Westminster House’s director believe a co-ed program that has no trauma counselling is not a good fit for Karly.

The only other option suggested was outpatient treatment. But Karly’s already tried and failed at that. Besides, her dealer lives two blocks from their home.

If Karly was an adult on welfare, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction would pay $30.90 a day for her room and board in residential care.

Bizarrely, Krista said the social worker suggested maybe Karly could just wait a year and then her treatment would be fully covered.

“This is f–ing BS. I can’t wait until she’s older. She’ll be dead,” said Krista, who has had her own problems with addiction. An alumni of Westminster House, she is four years into recovery.

Concerns about how to pay for Karly’s treatment in addition to caring for Karly’s baby and Karly’s younger sister are wearing heavily on Krista. She’s had to take a medical leave from her job, and is worried about how she will pay her rent.

She’s already spent four years in a constant state of readiness in case Karly overdoses. There’s naloxone in the house. The razors are hidden because “Karly cuts, cuts.” Every time Karly took a bath, Krista stood apprehensively by the door because her daughter had threatened to drown herself.

But now?

“She is doing amazing,” Krista said. “The first time I saw her was 15 to 16 days in, and she had colour in her cheeks and they were my kid’s eyes, beautiful brown . . .

“When I brought her son to see her, her smile so genuine. I had not seen it in so many years. The smile was what I remember of her as a kid.”

Hogarth wonders why the government can’t look at the bigger picture of what Karly’s untreated addiction might cost — from more overdoses to her mother’s fragile state to the fate of her son.

Everybody, Hogarth said, deserves a chance at recovery and not just harm reduction interventions.

“Karly is not the easiest client in the world,” she said with a laugh. “But she’s worth it because we want her to go home to her son and to be able to raise him.”

For now, the non-profit Westminster House is covering Karly’s costs with donations augmented by a GoFundMe campaign organized by Krista’s friends.

But it can’t do that forever, or without more donations.

As for Karly, for the first time in years she’s thinking about a future. She won’t be ready to start school in September, but plans to go back as soon as she can for Grade 12 and then go on to study so that she can work in health care.

“I feel like my story can help other people.”

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne

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19Jul

Daphne Bramham: Failure to enforce recovery house standards cost two men their lives

by admin

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.”


Step by Step recovery house at 9310 132nd Street in Surrey where Zach Plett overdosed in December.

Jason Payne /

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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.


Zach Plett.

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Low tolerance

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.”


Zach Plett with his sister Cassie Plett and Maggie Plett in Manitoba.

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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.

[email protected]

Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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