After 20 years in the community, Pathways Addiction Recovery Centre has had its funding cut by Interior Health, who says they are bringing addictions services in-house now. (Facebook)

Community outraged at Interior Health’s decision to cut funding to Penticton addiction services centre

People question why Pathways addiction services would be cut during an overdose epidemic

Residents, current and former clients and community leaders are expressing their outrage with Interior Health’s decision to cut funding to Pathways Addictions Resource Centre.

On Tuesday morning, Pathways’ executive director Daryl Meyers announced that they’ve been served notice by IH that the health authority is ‘repatriating” the three addictions contracts that Pathways has run for over 20 years.

According to Meyers, IH is giving them until May 31, when the health authority will transition all the addictions services in-house to establish “a single point of access” to develop team-based care with IH clinicians.

Considering IH makes up 95 per cent of Pathway’s budget, the centre that provides out-patient treatment programs is now in jeopardy of closing. Pathways has 10 staff and serves around 1,000 people per year suffering from alcohol and drug addictions.

One former client of Pathways said the decision by IH will be ‘catastrophic.’

“I have been a client of pathways for five years. This is devastating,” said Kimberley Meier.

“I recently moved [to another part of B.C.] and work with a peer-led organization that supports members of our community. Previously I worked in Penticton and was alienated by Interior Health,” she said.

“This is government abomination. I have seen the same counsellor for almost five years. I have seen first-hand from being an outreach worker and from being a person with lived experience. Losing this service would be a catastrophe,” said Meier.

Others who have had success with Pathways have been sharing their stories and disappointment.

Several people commented on Facebook that any time they try to access mental health or addictions services through Interior Health, they are given a 1-800 number that leads nowhere and it’s often impossible to navigate their services, leaving many to just give up.

READ MORE: Future of Pathways in jeopardy after IH pulls funding

Interior Health has responded to the criticisms, saying this isn’t a cut in services or a knock at the good work of Pathways.

“Interior Health is shifting substance use counselling services in the South Okanagan from an external contract to internally operated services,” said IH media relations.

“Substance use services offered through Interior Health have changed significantly in the last two years in the South Okanagan due to the availability of emergency response funding from the provincial government. This has significantly improved the substance use services offered directly by Interior Health.”

Keeping the Cold Off, a not-for-profit outreach group helping those experiencing homelessness in Penticton, doesn’t agree that Interior Health services for substance use has improved.

“Losing Pathways’ contract is absolutely horrible. The amount of people they serve and help each year should speak for itself. This appears to be something to save money and move in house,” said Keeping the Cold Off’s founder Mike Forster.

“We need to increase services, and make them easier for those needing help with substance use. Since when has anything at the Health Authority been easy to access when it comes to services?” he added.

Penticton City Coun. Katie Robinson also voiced her feelings on the decision at the March 2 meeting.

“At a time when we’re asking for more mental health resources, more addiction resources, they’re cutting the programs like Pathways. And then the city tries to put a Band-aid on it by bumping up our bylaw officers,” said Robinson.

“It’s just disturbing on so many levels. We had our conversations with Minister Eby. We’ve been absolutely begging the provincial and federal governments to step to the plate in dealing with these health problems,” said Robinson.

Interior Health says shifting substance use counselling services in house “provides the ability to support clients along the full continuum of care, distribute the resources more broadly across the South Okanagan and be more nimble in the response to change client needs and evidence-based practice.”

Meanwhile, without any funding coming into Pathways, they will be looking to fundraising and other means to stay open.

“Every client who comes through our door is in an extremely vulnerable situation and being able to provide timely service at a community level is key,” said Meyers, about what Pathways offer.

READ ALSO: Penticton council denies extension to Victory Church shelter

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