New money still leaves region short 

Needle exchange started, mental health programs improved with new health care funding

The Coast Garibaldi Health will finally be implementing a needle exchange program in Sea to Sky country with additional funding announced last week.

The provincial government is offering up another $1 million in 2001 for the area’s health services. In addition to the needle exchange, the new money will go toward mental health services, the 24-hour crisis stabilization service that supports mental health clients, a part-time nutritionist position will be increased to full-time, a part-time home care nurse position will be created in the Sea to Sky corridor, and part-time community rehabilitation therapist positions in Powell River and the Sea to Sky corridor will become full-time positions. Funding will also go toward a full-time home care nurse for the Sunshine Coast and one full-time nurse and 24-hour home support staff in the Gibsons Garden Inn Retirement Centre. A new system to provide health inspection information to the public via the world wide web will also be added.

Medical health officer, Dr. Paul Matiquet, was disappointed last fall after the province announced just $950,000 for community and patient needs in the region. Martiquet says that money barely allowed the health unit to keep up with present patient and staffing levels.

The new money, however, has been earmarked for specific programs. As part of an AIDS/HIV prevention program, $35,000 will go towards starting up a needle exchange in the corridor, similar to programs already offered in Powell River and The Sunshine Coast.

"The hope is to accomplish two things," says Martiquet. "One is to decrease those viruses transmitted through IV drug use. We have a high HIV/AIDS rate in the Sea to Sky corridor. We also have a high hepatitis C rate.

"Second, is getting these people into the relationship where they can seek services and hopefully head on the road to recovery."

Martiquet adds needle use tends to be much higher in Squamish and Pemberton than in other rural communities because of their proximity to Vancouver and the affordable housing conditions in those towns. The needle exchange will be a mobile unit making stops in each community once a week.

Last year the Sunshine Coast and Sea to Sky areas initiated 24-hour crisis stabilization services at a cost of $464,000. The service, which supports mental health clients and provides relief to hospital emergency programs, received an additional $76,000 last week to augment the program.

While the additional $1 million, which comes through the Ministry of Health’s recent Health Action Plan, is welcome it still doesn’t put the Coast Garibaldi region on par with other rural areas.

"We are the only rural health region in the province that is growing at a significant pace," CEO Geoff Rowlands said. "There is also a large and growing number of elderly people who, quite naturally, require more health services. Although this new funding is very important, Coast Garibaldi still receives fewer dollars for health care than the other rural areas on a per capita basis.

"We will continue to make our case for a more equitable share of the health budget," Rowlands said.

Background notes Coast Garibaldi Health included with the announcement of the new funding state that the region will need an additional $250,000 per year to bring its public health programs up to the average of the other rural health regions, and $1.2 million per year to bring home care nursing and home support to the average of those regions. All the rural health regions require additional mental health services to address contemporary needs.

The background notes also state that assisted living programs are contingent upon future funds from the Ministry of Health in the 2001/02 financial year.

Coast Garibaldi Health is also working with the Ministry of Health to fund at least two additional environmental health officers to work on water quality issues. This would provide more staff time for inspections of food handling premises and enforcement of tobacco legislation.

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In a separate announcement this week the province announced Coast Garibaldi Health would receive $294,000 for miscellaneous capital improvement projects costing less than $100,000 each throughout the region.

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