Island Health 'weeks' away from opening overdose-prevention site in Nanaimo

By Dominic Abassi
January 6, 2017 - 1:49pm

NANAIMO — It will likely still be weeks before an Island Health sanctioned overdose-prevention site is operating in Nanaimo, according to one of their medical health officers.

But Dr. Paul Hasselback says a so-called pop-up safe consumption site in the parking lot at City Hall is providing a needed service for the community and has stimulated dialogue that will lead to something official being established soon.

"The pop-up is a thoughtful way of encouraging and ensuring that the dialogue continues in a constructive and expeditious fashion," said Hasselback. "It's clearly demonstrated that this community is ready for and wants this service to be provided and recognizes there is a need. There's been far too many tragedies in Nanaimo over the past four years."

After Councillors Gord Fuller and Jim Kipp, with the help of a team of volunteers, set up an unsanctioned supervised location for drug injection on Dec. 26, Island Health stated it was their goal to have a sanctioned facility operating in the first week of January. Hasselback says that won't happen, noting the holiday break made it very difficult to move things along quickly.

A ministerial order allowing health authorities in B.C. to create overdose-prevention sites that are not approved by Ottawa was issued on Dec. 12.

Hasselback says he can understand criticism levelled against Island Health for delays in the process in Nanaimo. However, he says it would not be right for the health authority to simply setup a location on their own without consulting with the city and community about many things, including location.

"There's more to it than just the identification of the site. It requires hiring, making sure resources are in place, scheduling. Now that does sound bureaucratic and in that sense maybe some criticisms are legitimate. Having said that, those are processes that do have to be followed and they're being done as quickly as possible," he said.

There are already two sites operating in Victoria under the ministerial order. Hasselback says it was always the plan to focus on the south island first and then move further north. He says Victoria was able to move much more quickly because there was four months of work going on behind the scenes before the Dec. 12 order came down.

Tracy Samra, Nanaimo's chief administrative officer, says the city's position is that Island Health is the lead on this project. She says it's her understanding there are four sites being considered right now but nothing has been formally presented to the city.

At Monday's special council meeting, Samra says discussions will centre around what to do with the current pop-up site at City Hall and what role the city can play in assisting Hasselback and his team in opening a sanctioned location.

Meanwhile, Coun. Fuller tells NanaimoNewsNOW that Island Health has toured their tent and declared that it is not a safety risk. He says over 100 people have come through the location to use drugs.

"I expected there to be delays. We've got some great volunteers that will keep ONSITE running until something gets set up," said Fuller.

He notes the community support has been phenomenal and they are looking at replacing the tent with a trailer, possibly this weekend.

Hasselback says there's no specific opening date for an official site in Nanaimo.

"I can say literally as days go along, there will be more information available that will help focus attention about when would that be operationalized."

It would take "several months to a year" to establish a federally-approved supervised-injection site, according to Hasselback.

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