Northern Health is attempting to give clients and family members accessing mental health and addiction services a direct line of communication with Northern Health.
The idea is to create advisory committees across Northern Health communities, and Fort St. James, Vanderhoof, Burns Lake and Fraser Lake will group together to form one committee for Omineca Lakes.
The first meeting of the committee was to inform people interested in what the committee’s model of communication will be, explain the roles of the committee and the positions and duties needing to be fulfilled on the committee.
“The reason that we’re having a mental health and addictions advisory committee is because there hasn’t really been a formal way for community and family members to talk to northern health,” explained Sandy Ramsay, project manager for the mental health and addiction advisory committee at the teleconference.
Ramsay is looking for at least six clients and five family members of people using mental health and addiction services spots on the committee, four of whom would have to fulfill committee positions as a chair, co-chair, secretary or treasurer. Service providers would also be able to sit on the committee, but would not be able to vote.
In the area of Omineca Lakes, there are eight communities and 15 bands, which makes it a unique area.
The committee would meet monthly to put forward issues and concerns, and then a representative would meet with the other committees quarterly and once a year each committee would get a chance to meet with Jim Campbell, Regional Director of Mental Health & Addictions regarding strategic planning.
While the meeting was meant to get the ball rolling to get people involved in forming a committee, Ramsay spent quite a bit of time defending the committee and answering questions under criticisms by participants.
There were concern the terms of reference as they are established might be too rigid according to Louise Evans-Salt of Fort Alcohol and Drug Counselling. Evans-Salt worried they might create barriers for people struggling with mental health or addictions issues in coming forward and participating.
There were also concerns raised that these terms of reference were developed in the larger rural centres like Prince George and Quesnel, and would not necessarily apply in more remote, rural areas like the Fort and Fraser Lake.
However, Ramsay tried to allay reservations by saying that this is just a basis to start out from and things will be able to be developed along the way to work the terms of reference into a more useful model for the area.
Due to the changes occurring in mental health and addiction services in these areas, with Northern Health taking over the management of these services from contractors who were in place for decades, there were also concerns the vulnerable people being targeted for the committee won’t feel secure enough to come forward.
“How do we get those vulnerable voices heard at the table,” said Evans-Salt. “We’re not really good at that.”
This lack of security is being added to by the unanswered questions still existing around what the new services will look like after the shift from the old service provider to Northern Health, according to another participant at the conference.
However, Ramsay expressed her hope that the advisory committee itself would help lead to some stability for these families because they would be able to say directly to Northern Health what those transitions mean for the services and whether there are any gaps in services which need to be filled.
There are currently committees up and running in Prince George, Terrace, Smithers, Quesnel, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert and Kitimat.
There are committees starting in Fort St. John, and Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson and Robson Valley are being worked on to get things started.
The next meeting for the mental health and addictions advisory committee will take place on April 14 at 1:30 p.m., at Stuart Lake Hospital for people in Fort St. James.