In the midst of an opiate overdose crisis, beds are sitting empty at a provincially funded residential addictions facility near Keremeos and one of the main reasons is a shortage in housing in the area for staff.
Dr. Connie Coniglio from Provincial Health Services Authority oversees Ashnola at the Crossing, a residential addiction facility for young adults aged 17 to 24. She said recruiting staff to the remote facility has always been difficult, but with the addition of a housing shortage it’s even more challenging.
“There isn’t any on-site housing at Ashnola unfortunately, partly that has to do with licensing and it’s difficult for people to do that kind of work and also live on-site. Housing is definitely a factor when we’re recruiting and that’s true everywhere in B.C,” she said. “There’s a limited number of housing options in that area. In the summer it’s OK to drive but in the winter it’s a different story.”
Since the facility opened last year, the maximum number of beds it’s been able to operate is 18, but when at full compliment of staff the facility has a licensing maximum of 22 beds. The facility is operated in partnership with Central City Foundation, which owns the property and leases it to the province for free.
When it first opened in March, the facility was running with a low number of clients to ensure a smooth transition under its new operator Vancouver-based Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS). Coniglio said by mid-summer, after upgrades and safety initiatives were complete, 18 beds were filled and that has remained steady.
As of late last week, there were 15 young adults who met criteria on the wait list to get into Ashnola at the Crossing, but Coniglio said there were many more throughout the province needing help.
“It’s really about making sure we have the staff to make it safe to fill the beds. I’ve worked with them (PCRS) pretty closely and I know they are working hard to fill positions. We all understand how important it is to keep those beds filled especially given the concerns of opioids,” she said.
PCRS was chosen as the operator of the facility in 2016 after an in-depth request for proposals process. The previous operator Quebec-based Portage abruptly pulled out from operating the facility in March 2015. After the company’s departure issues around properly trained staff at the facility and budget concerns surfaced.
PCRS is currently recruiting inside and outside of B.C. Many of the 30 full and part-time positions at Ashnola at the Crossing have been filled, some by local people, but Coniglio said some positions have high educational requirements.
“Some require a masters’ degree in counselling for example or a high level of addictions training. There just isn’t tonnes of people around in the area that have that kind of background,” she said.
Currently the facility is hiring for a clinical position, on-call admin staff, on-call residential addiction worker and a transportation worker.
Despite challenges recruiting staff, there are no plans to relocate the addiction treatment facility to a more populated area with a larger employee pool.
“Clients and people that go up there 100 per cent would say it’s a therapeutic environment. There’s beauty all around and there’s access to the outdoors, quiet and tranquil and that offers a great environment to be in,” she said.