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Interior Health Shifts Program To Oliver
Many in Osoyoos want local mental health support services to remain
By Julie TurnerrnOsoyoos Times
After months of struggle and uncertainty between the Osoyoos mental health support group and Interior Health Authority (IHA), Bateman House, an outreach facility for those dealing with mental health and addiction, officially closed its doors May 30 amid a street protest.
IHA officials say they will temporarily relocate the services to Oliver, and may also add a housing component to the program there. They say they plan to impose a one- to two-month wait before deciding where an alternate facility will be permanently established. Last week, Osoyoos Town Councillor Allan Carswell tried to broker a solution to ensure support services would continue in the community for local mental health consumers.
A dozen protestors showed up at the drop-in centre last Tuesday morning as movers began loading the contents into a truck destined for Oliver. IHA had leased Bateman House until May 30. The house has been sold and is slated for redevelopment.
Osoyoos Family Mental Health Support Society (OFMHSS) Director Caroline Staple said last month that IHA's Allan Clarke, along with mental health consumers and advocates, had viewed another house together in April, just a block away from Bateman House. All agreed the house was perfect. But that is where it ended. In order to lease the house, IHA learned it would need to be rezoned. Town officials said they had invited IHA to submit a rezoning application but no application came in. OFMHSS insists IHA had not looked into the house because it had every intention of moving Bateman House to Oliver.
OFMHSS volunteers and founding members, along with mental health consumers and other supporters, showed up at Bateman House last Tuesday with signs reading 'You can shut us down but you can't shut us up', 'Keep Bateman House in Osoyoos!' and 'Contents go to storage, Consumers go to streets!' The protestors then marched to the Interior Health-operated Osoyoos Health Centre on Main Street. When society directors learned the items were going to a location in Oliver, it confirmed their belief IHA is not looking for a new house in Osoyoos.
Society founding member Freda Hesketh said she didn't know how the organization could continue to exist without a facility in Osoyoos. If they can just come here and take everything away, if this is what we're faced with, what can we do? Director Bev Moreira insisted the fight is not over. We're staying as a group here and will look after our consumers. But Moreira said later the struggle to save Bateman House has been exhausting. The group has been trying to make arrangements with IHA since early February, when it learned the property was for sale.
Consumer advocate Bob Richards was blunt in his assessment of IHA's move: Interior Health has said nothing to us at all. We're getting screwed. He was also upset that no one from Interior Health was at Bateman House Tuesday to answer questions, and added the uncertainty of not knowing IHA's future plans for a drop-in centre has caused consumers a lot of anguish. Mental health workers know that change is difficult for us and the more routine our day is, the better we function. We also wonder why management did not act to have a permanent drop-in centre when, one full year ago while preparing the budget, they knew the drop-in lease was expiring and yet they made no move to find something permanent.
Councillor Allan Carswell attended the protest and suggested a space could be found for the consumers at the Sonora Community Centre. He arranged a meeting with Staple, Moreira, Recreation Director Gerald Davis and two local IHA employees and toured the community centre last Wednesday. Carswell said everyone was on side with the idea and thought the community centre would be an ideal location. It was now up to OFMHSS to convince IHA to fund the space. Staple e-mailed IHA Senior Manager Rob Kushner and invited him to check out the centre.
In an e-mail to Staple Thursday, Kushner thanked Staple for assisting with locating an alternate space. However, he also noted ¦ public protest, newspaper involvement, and approaching the city on the status of various discussions or negotiations does not always help serve consumer interest. Despite having the best interests in mind, these actions have the potential to delay or negatively impact business dealings¦ Kushner went on to allege that Richards assaulted an IHA staff member over the issue of the storage of the Bateman House contents in Oliver. Many of those items, including furniture and appliances, were supplied to OFMHSS through community donations and the society's fundraising efforts. Kushner noted IHA is taking the incident seriously and warned it could cut off all ties to groups seen as supporting or facilitating aggressive actions. He said he plans to implement a minimum 30 to 60-day cooling off period with respect to Osoyoos site issues … and will be moving forward with temporary space in Oliver.
IHA Mental Health Manager Allan Clarke affirmed Friday it has secured a location to operate Bateman House from Oliver. He added IHA intends to use the Bateman House belongings in the new location, but if the groups and individuals who donated items do not wish for us to continue to use them, they are welcome to have the items back.rnClarke said IHA is also maintaining a portion of the program in Osoyoos two days per week at a space in the Baptist Church. He said the current arrangement allows IHA to have a presence in both communities, while allowing us to better accommodate Oliver clients, of which there are more, and enhances what we have to offer clients. He agreed the Sonora Centre has promise and said IHA would be talking further with the Town; however, he added IHA would not be making any new commitments. He explained IHA's next goal is to purchase property for the Bateman program. He said when it became apparent that IHA would not be able to complete the zoning application on the Osoyoos property before the current tenancy ran out, it began exploring other options.
We were pleased to find there were better properties, though they were in Oliver. I presume this has something to do with current market conditions. Having made the choices we have, we are now in the position to run the program in both communities, while maintaining the flexibility to purchase our own property and even possibly add a housing component to our services. Clarke said more time and more discussion would have been preferred, but the rapid timeline of having to be out of the current location forced IHA to act quickly. However, in the end, we believe that individuals with a serious and persistent mental illness will find a greater range of services at their disposal.rnCarswell said at Monday night's Council meeting he was disappointed to see the temporary loss of programs that Bateman House provided, and added he would like to see Interior Health and the Town work together to provide program space in the new community centre. In my opinion, a room upstairs would be ideal and could be available very soon. These people are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and they deserve our help and support right here in their own community. Mental health issues still carry a lot of stigma, and as a community, we need to let these people know they are valued and we want them here, not in Oliver.