Tuesday, 04 October 2016 08:00

Team approach to helping people with addictions

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Travis Funk, with the Medicine Hat Police Services Police And Crisis Team, speaks about the work the team does at the Palliser Friends of Medicare meeting Sept. 20. Travis Funk, with the Medicine Hat Police Services Police And Crisis Team, speaks about the work the team does at the Palliser Friends of Medicare meeting Sept. 20. Photo by Rose Sanchez

Addiction and mental health issues are a growing concern in Medicine Hat, but law enforcement and health officials are working in a more concentrated effort to assist those in need of help.

Representatives with the Medicine Hat Police Service, addictions and mental health with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Palliser Primary Care Network spoke at a Sept. 20 Palliser Friends of Medicare meeting, in an effort to help educate those in attendance.
“Our community stakeholders have stated our services are of a high quality, but it’s difficult to get clients into programs and services,” said Debbie Vass, manager of addictions and mental health, AHS, in Medicine Hat.
She said officials have taken those concerns seriously and changed the approach toward helping people with addictions issues.
“We want to focus on ‘no door is the wrong door’ ... where you show up, we will ensure you get the services you need and understand how to access those services.”
AHS has moved to a focus of putting the client first and asking what each individual client needs from services provided. Prior to this change, each client was forced to fit into the provided services.
“We strive for a very client-focused approach,” said Vass. “The addiction and mental health services system exists to meet the needs of the clients in the system.”
Tracey Jangula is the clinical supervisor at the Medicine Hat recovery centre which opened its doors earlier this year.
“We want to ensure each person receives the appropriate level of assessment, then that we are really listening to what their identified needs are. This may not be the last step for that individual, it may be the first step and we become an advocate for them in the system,” she explained.
The focus has shifted so rather than focusing on the length of time a person is in treatment, health officials help clients move through the system based on their changing needs. Based on a person’s individual progress within he treatment system, their stay at the centre could be four weeks or more or fewer weeks than that.
“The client determines their own success,” added Jangula. “If we’re not meeting their needs, we help them find the service that will help them meet their individual needs.”
Both Jangula and Vass lauded the partnerships that are in place in Medicine Hat, with various agencies working together to help those in need including housing, the women’s shelter and police services.
“It’s a very cohesive service within our community,” said Vass.
“In Medicine Hat, we’re very lucky to have that.”
The Palliser Primary Care Network (PPCN) also plays an important role in the partnership. Abbie Skrove, a clinical supervisor with PPCN, explained a little bit about the organization and its role in the health-care system in southeast Alberta.
It provides specialized services to physicians’ offices, such as Registered Nurses, dietitians or behaviourial health consultants (BHC). These BHCs provide support to people who are experiencing difficulties with emotional areas such as anger, stress or bereavement.
“It could be helping find the right referral,” said Skrove.
PPCN staff are educated on the services available in the region so they can better help connect people with the resources they may require. Individuals can also find information for themselves on the website at www.palliserpcn.ca.
Skrove pointed out their focus is to help people before they reach a crisis situation where the police may need to be called or acute care services are required.
The Medicine Hat Police Services has also stepped up to become a more active partner with the creation of its Police And Crisis Team (PACT) earlier this spring.
Cst. Travis Funk explained PACT is a team of people who follow-up on individuals who have had interactions with local police due to mental health or addictions issues. The team looks into the individual’s history with police as well as the progress the person may be making in terms of treatment.
PACT works in partnership with Alberta Health Services, REDI, CORE, Next Step, probation services and Canadian Mental Health Services.
The need to set up such a team became evident to policing officials as they saw their calls increase that had a mental health focus. Funk said in 2014 there were 746 calls that were mental health related. The next year that jumped to 962 calls and as of mid September this year, with 872 calls, Funk believes the service to be on pace to hit about 1,200.
While it is impossible to predict why there has been an increase, Funk said it is likely a combination of a poor economy, increased drug and alcohol use and strained financial situations.
“PACT is trying to identify and fill any gaps in the mental health system,” said Funk. “We have low, medium and high-risk people... Every person is different and we look at each case differently and try to find a solution.”
Vass said her department works with PACT closely. It is known in the community that there are some of the same individuals who end up in the emergency department due to alcohol and drug problems.
“We’re hoping to become more involved with those people and find out why they are not connecting with our team and why we are not meeting their needs in the community,” she added.
Jangula added there are no quick fixes for anyone.
“It’s a journey for all ... It takes time.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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