This is the third instalment in a four-part series on recovery in Greater Victoria. Find more in the next edition of Victoria News or online at vicnews.com/tag/house-of-hope.
Scott Shepard first came in contact with Umbrella Society after waking up in hospital in March 2018. Three weeks earlier, Shepard had jumped off a three-storey parkade at the Royal Jubilee Hospital after going into psychosis.
Between the ages of 18 to 31, Shepard says he abused marijuana and alcohol which – thanks to a genetic disposition in his family towards psychosis – did not help his psychotic illness.
“My psychotic illness is actually fairly mild,” he says, seated on an old couch in Foundation House, one of three recovery homes run by Umbrella Society for people dealing with substance abuse issues. “It’s not so much hallucinations, it’s mostly disorganization.”
Every so often he pauses to pat the dog laying next to him, Lyca, who lives in the house with Shepard and 10 other men in recovery.
Shepard describes the stress that led up to the jump – he had quit drinking, stopped smoking cigarettes, and halted using CBD oil. He had given someone CPR that was overdosing outside of his work and then had a falling out with the mother of his child.
“I wound up having a pretty big psychotic break that just lasted and lasted.”
This wasn’t new to Shepard, and in these situations, he would normally go to the hospital for help.
“I knew I just needed to catch up on sleep but I guess they just didn’t have a bed available … They wrote me a prescription for Ativan and sent me on my way.”
The next day Shepard’s parents took him to their family doctor, who told them Shepard needed to go back to the hospital because he was likely to hurt himself.
“[My parents] were parking the car in the parkade and they lost sight of me for 10 seconds,” he says. “Then I jumped.”
He pulls up both pant legs and rolls up his sleeves to reveal massive scars on each limb from 13 reconstructive surgeries. Shepard spent four months in hospital and then moved to Comerford, a second-stage housing facility run by Island Health for people dealing with mental health and substance abuse.
He found it very difficult to live in. Shepard would wake up in the middle of the night to blood-curdling screams, which he says staff found normal. Because it’s a two-fold facility he wasn’t getting the attention he felt he needed. From there he moved to Foundation House, one of three recovery homes run by Umbrella Society for people dealing with substance abuse issues.
Kelly Reid, director of mental health and addictions services for Island Health, says while Comerford is one of the highest staffed facilities, there are always times when more attention and more staffing would be better; calling it a “workable solution.”
“Whenever you’re mixing people with different needs in the same location sometimes you have to make compromises, and there’s a risk that someone won’t be a good fit,” he says, adding, in an ideal world – where money wasn’t a challenge – more specialized services and facilities would be available.
Something that comes up repeatedly in regards to treating mental health or addiction are the gaps in services. Seamlessness is the goal but often there are waiting lists, a lack of beds or simply not enough staff to treat people.
In response to the heavy volume of people in need of Island Health’s services, a clinician has been added to engage with people who are in transition between phases of recovery, whether that means in between detox and stabilization or long-term residential treatment facilities.
“Ideally people would have direct access when the window is open because it’s often only open for a very brief period of time and we want to be able to provide service in an immediate way to take advantage of the motivation.”
The government’s response to the crisis at hand was to create a position two years ago that would have one person oversee and coordinate all the efforts spanning the province. Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions, says she was given two tasks: lead the response to the overdose crisis and build a better system for addiction and mental health care.
“Doing those two at the same time is something I’ve likened to trying to fly a very badly damaged airplane in the midst of a category five hurricane,” she says.
Darcy notes what’s needed is a continuum of care that would fill the gaps in services — something that’s been addressed in the new 10-year strategic plan called A Pathway to Hope. The plan outlines a response to the current crisis with an emphasis on integrated and interdisciplinary care, including recovery teams in various communities and a focus on prevention beginning in youth. According to Darcy, a system of care doesn’t exist right now but that is the long-term goal.
“We’re not going to rest and we’re going to continue to escalate our response to the crisis until we’ve turned the corner,” she says.
Reid, who has a long history of working in the health care industry, says the one positive he can see coming out of the crisis is the attention it’s brought to the issue. He says when he first started it felt like care providers were “starting from scratch” with a long road of slow progress.
For Shepard the progress is slow, but he recognizes the amount of pressure organizations like Island Health have put on them in the face of the crisis.
“If I’m being honest, I do [feel] some blame, but on the same note, I kind of understand why what happened happened,” he says.
For now, Shepard is focusing on his own recovery at Foundation House, where he says he finally feels stable.
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