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A look at mental health care in Princeton

Similkameen Spotlight - 11/15/2018

Princeton is getting its mental health act together.

After a year of searching, a mental health and substance use clinician has been hired full time for the community, according to Kevin Fraser, spokesperson for Interior Health.

Michelle Duchene will take up the role January 2, 2019, and will serve between 40 and 50 clients, he said.

Duchene has been employed as a Community Mental Health Clinician since 2006. She holds a Master's Degree in Social Work from Dalhousie University, a Diploma in Business Administration and a Certificate in Applied Counselling. She has experience in a range of areas including probations, child welfare, addictions, private practice, and palliative care, and was a session instructor with the University of Manitoba.

"It's really, I think, a good news story," said Fraser. "I think we are feeling pretty good about the situation right now."

Princeton was left without full time mental health care in December 2016, following the sudden death of the municipality's only counsellor.

A replacement was hired, but that worker was terminated last November by Interior Health after complaints from the community sparked an investigation.

Fraser would not comment on the nature of the complaints received.

While a full time and permanent counsellor was being sought, local patients were seen by out of town professionals.

"We were stick-handling with some casual resources."

Fraser said it is unfortunate it took so long to hire a clinician.

"It's not unusual to have recruiting challenges for smaller communities. We've been experiencing this in numerous other small communities across the province," he said. "With the substance use crisis in the province there's been new money that has gone into hiring new positions in the more densely populated areas, which has put a strain on our inventory of clinicians."

He said it was also necessary to secure a professional who is committed to staying in Princeton and is a good fit for the community.

"It is a bit unusual…to have a vacant position go that long but we wanted to make sure that we weren't making decisions based on being seemingly desperate," said Fraser. "We had to go back to the drawing board a couple of times."

Interior Health's staffing challenges overlapped with the shutting down of the mental health club house The Anchorage, in January 2016.

The clubhouse was shuttered after the building was sold, and the program was run temporarily out of the hospital and rotating locations in the community.

Interior Health eventually contracted with the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society and found a new location for the drop-in centre. The Kn ala Inclusion House was open for only four days in July when the health authority shut it down. That decision fell on the heels of a WorkSafeBC judgment imposing a $628,034 fine against the health authority, related to a previous incident at the new location.

Last month The Kn ala Inclusion House re-opened on Bridge Street.

When asked about Princeton's needs for mental health service, and reports that the community has higher than average rates of depression and alcohol consumption and has experienced numerous fatal drug overdoses in the past two years, Fraser acknowledged there are challenges.

"There's certainly socio-economic challenges in Princeton…socio-economic and access to employment."


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