If ever there were a need for more harm reduction, it’s at the registered and unregistered, licensed and unlicensed addictions recovery houses in British Columbia run by operators who have no regard for residents’ health or safety.
Within the last year, five people have died in provincially registered recovery homes. Two of those deaths were in the last three months.
On Dec. 1 — years too late for too many — new legislation and regulations finally came into effect. But they apply only to operators on the provincial Assisted Living Registry and not to those licensed by the local health authorities. There is also no provision to shut down those that are operating illegally. On its website, the Health Ministry does list 26 unregistered houses that it has received complaints about. But people in the recovery community say it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
The regulations themselves are “thin,” according to Carson McPherson, the chair of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use’s recovery committee.
“They’re easy to work around. There’s no real specificity anywhere,” said McPherson.
“There are no specific requirements for level of staffing qualifications tied to prescribed services. If you’re delivering trauma-informed services, you ought to have someone qualified. But that doesn’t exist (in the regulations).”
Prior to the regulations coming into effect, the Addictions Ministry provided $4,000 grants to operators for 16 hours of staff training.
But McPherson argues that’s hardly enough. “You’re dealing with health care and life and death situations.”
Beyond that, what’s been left in place is a confusing system that’s almost impossible for recovering addicts and their families to navigate. While some recovery houses are registered on the province’s Assisted Living Registry, others are licensed by local health authorities.
Still others operate illegally, which has forced municipalities like Surrey to use their limited business licensing and bylaw enforcement systems to try to shut them down. The government provided no new tools or authority to deal with those.
Despite that, there’s plenty of catch-up work that B.C.’s assisted living registrar needs to do.
Until now under the old, so-called “progressive system,” registered operators were given multiple chances to fix problems and there were no consequences if they didn’t.
On Nov. 26, for example, it cancelled Step by Step Recovery Society’s registration. But two days later, a man in his 30s lit himself on fire and died at one of its five Surrey houses. He was the third resident in less than a year to die in one of Step by Step’s houses, which had 65 substantiated complaints registered against them.
Even now, at least one of its houses remains open. The Addictions Ministry says it has asked the city to help the remaining residents find spots at other recovery houses.
Why wasn’t Step by Step immediately closed on Dec. 1 when the legislation and regulations came into force? Because they’re not retroactive and the actions begun against Step by Step are covered by the old rules.
Also exempt from the new regulations areOptions Recovery Centre in Surrey and Reaching Out in Vancouver where the two other deaths occurred earlier this year.
On July 1, a beloved young man died at Options on 100A Avenue. The 24-year-old was the brother of a friend of mine.
Among the most cynical of Options’ substantiated failings is that it failed to even meet the legislated requirement of filing a serious incident report to the registrar within 24 hours of his death. It was only reported on Aug. 8 after complaint had been filed.
But that was the only substantiated complaint to which John Alan Murphy, Options sole proprietor, has responded.
Investigators have substantiated complaints that it fails to provide many of the key services required of supportive addictions residential care homes.
In July, investigators found that staff and volunteers are not qualified for their jobs or knowledgeable about their roles.
No help is provided for residents to work toward long-term recovery, maximize their self-sufficiency, enhance their quality of life or help them reintegrate into the community. The food was deemed not to be nutritious or safely prepared.
Two months earlier, investigators substantiated a similar list of complaints.
Unsafe meals. Unsafe site management. Unqualified staff and volunteers. No support to assist in recovery and reintegration.
Sometime in September, a resident died at Reaching Out, a house in Vancouver operated by Changing Addictive Attitudes Recovery Society of B.C.
On Nov. 25, investigators substantiated complaints about Reaching Out that are chillingly similar to those at Options.
Reaching Out failed to report the death at its facility within 24 hours. Staff and volunteers were unqualified. There is no 24-hour emergency response system for residents and staff to summon help. And investigators deemed it an unsafe place for residents to live.
To gain some modicum of credibility, the registrar needs to act swiftly to bring all of the houses into line and hope that no one else dies in the meantime.
As for Health Minister Adrian Dix and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy, they ought to draft even more sweeping changes, bolstering enforcement to ensure that illegal operators can also be rooted out.
Vulnerable people aren’t just dying on Downtown Eastside streets in the midst of the opioid overdose crisis. They’re dying in places that promise to help them attain a healthier lives.
Unregistered supportive housing in B.C.
Anyone who provides assisted living services for more than two seniors, people with mental health issues or those in recovery from addictions is required to be approved by B.C.’s assisted living registrar. Following is a list of unregistered homes by region from https://connect.health.gov.bc.ca/ext/ccala/assisted-living
• 3H Wellness Society
13297 78A Avenue
• A:yelexw Women’s (Seabird Island Recovery Homes)
2835 A:yxalh Lane
• Patricia House — Abbotsford Women’s Centre
15 Winson Road
• Cozzolino Home
24990 36th Avenue
• Good Samaritan Delta View Care Centre Ltd.
9341 Burns Drive
• Hope for Freedom Glory House
34641 Lougheed Hwy
• Inspire Change Wellness House
13936 — 28 Ave
• Union Gospel Mission — Lydia Home
33170 70th Ave
• Mann Ford Recovery Center
4131 Lakemount Road
• Union Gospel Mission
Men’s Recovery Program
601 East Hastings Street
• Night and Day Recovery Centre Ltd. (108A)
14677 108A Ave
• The English Manor
16963 22nd Ave
• Union Gospel Mission
361 Heatley Ave
• Vancouver Recovery Centre
1880 Eagle St
• Vancouver Recovery Centre
2323 Southdale Crescent
• Vancouver Recovery Centre — Suncrest
7822 Suncrest Drive
• Vancouver Recovery Society
6122 168 Street
• Resurrection Recovery Resources Society
Freedom’s Door #6
1340 Belaire Ave
• Round Lake Treatment Centre
200 Emery Louis Road
• Shuswap Lodge Retirement Residence
200 Trans Canada Highway SW
• The Mustard Seed
181 Victoria Street
• Valiant Recovery — The Crossing Point
3525-3527 Lakeshore Rd
VANCOUVER COASTAL HEALTH
• Giving Back Support Recovery (house One)
3608 Knight Street
VANCOUVER ISLAND HEALTH AUTHORITY
• Heritage Manor
1051 College Street
• Mile Zero Sober Living
647 Niagara St
• Oceanview Manor
468 Battie Drive