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Gary Holman Discusses Mental Health and Emergency Preparations During the Spring of Isolation

May 8

This was our most sparsely-attended meeting since ASK Salt Spring’s earliest days, possibly due to the sunny, summery weather and a weariness of sitting in front of screens. Despite the low number (totaling only nine including guests and volunteers) our three special guests, Gary Holman; Charles Nash, Emergency Operations Coordinator; and David Norget, co-chair of Salt Spring Health Advancement Network (SSHAN) gave us plenty of valuable information. Additionally, this Zoom session offered the closest approximation to a collaborative conversation yet achieved in our virtual gatherings.

David Norget began by describing the work being done to build our capacity to address mental health issues, a need identified seven years ago. Building from a five-year vision for mental health, SSHAN is partnering with our island’s health professionals to bring together key players - both recipients as well as providers - to make sure we are all working together to expand our capacity to deliver mental health services. Already committed to participate are Island Health, School District 64, Salt Spring Community Services, and local doctors. This stewardship group will also be seeking representation from those that are served, including those who are insecurely-housed and/ or struggling with mental health issues.

Envisioned as a regular gathering of those committed to working together toward better, more inclusive mental health services, David envisions a series of regularly-scheduled stewardship meetings of about 10 persons taking the pulse of mental health services in our community and seeking to enhance them.When asked whether the RCMP and Fire Department representatives have been included in this initiative, David answered in the affirmative.

Already having applied for a CRD Grant-in-Aid and having received a grant from the Salt Spring Island Foundation ($7.5k), this group is seeking other funding and developing a Memorandum of Understanding with Community Services to be eligible to apply for grants to the Vancouver Foundation and obtain a potential CRD Grant-in-Aid.

We learned that there are unfilled mental health positions, especially psychiatrists. A variety of factors were cited, including housing and the need to better market these jobs as well as the imperative of having a community working collaboratively/effective interagency teams.

We learned that Community Services are charged with child and youth counseling within the schools. Responsible for the shelter and food bank, they also provide some mental health supports for those using these services. When asked about possible gaps created when adult counseling was shifted away from Community Service and to Island Health, David responded that this transition is still fairly recent and that it took awhile for Island Health to adjust to this major change. Nevertheless, he did note that there are some gaps including insufficient resources and long waiting lists. Acute cases are being handled well.

The Province has announced a $5 million increase in mental health funding. David is watching carefully as details are still minimal.

It was acknowledged that SSHAN is an important first step toward building interdisciplinary collaboration and leadership for our health services.

Charles Nash spoke about the virus, comparing it to a war. Different from an emergency in which everyone works non-stop for a relatively-short period of time, a war requires enormous efforts over a longe period of time. He has found his role to have changed from a focus on emergency preparedness and enhancement of our PODs to outreach with many, both in our community and extending to Provincial players. One example of this is his negotiating role with the Victoria Emergency Operations Centre that approved the permit for the Farmers Market to open on Saturday. Various emergency services lobbied against this, maintaining that this as a dangerous magnet to tourists and won. As a result, the Saturday Market will remain closed until further notice, and the Farmers Market moved to its historical day of operations, Tuesday. This was decided by the Farmers Market board due to the perceived poor optics to the community of holding a market on Saturday.

He is concerned about the May 14 opening of our Provincial Parks (day use only), believing that this is giving the wrong message that we are back in business again. He would prefer this to have been done after the long holiday.

Charles has been leading regularly-scheduled inter-agency virtual meetings (including Island Health, BC Housing, Fire District, RCMP, Ambulance and Paramedic Services, CRD Housing, Bylaw Enforcement, PARC, Islands Trust, Community Services, and Harbour Authority), which provide a useful forum to exchange information, identify service gaps, and make recommendations to Provincial authorities. They will work together to develop guidelines for safe re-openings similar to those developed for the Tuesday Market and the golf course. Charles answered in the affirmative when asked whether these meetings would continue after the pandemic.

We learned that the Canadian Red Cross have an agreement to provide emergency services on Salt Spring. Recruitment efforts for eight to10 people are underway. the opportunity to have Canadian Red Cross on Salt Spring. Recruitment efforts for eight to10 people are underway. When asked if there would be a mental health component to this service, we were told that details were not yet available. David will follow-up with Charles. There was enthusiasm for this new service, citing remarkable Red Cross training opportunities as well as more potential for cross-organizational capacity building.

The conversation shifted to the fire ban resulting in large amounts of flammable materials that could significantly increase our hot season fire threat. It was noted that this Provincial mandate did not offer or support local community alternatives, leaving each community to cobble together a solution. As burning may be banned year-round in the not-too-distant future, attendees agreed that we should find alternative solutions to managing items that we have routinely burned.

We learned of a Fire Department/CRD initiative to provide enhanced chipping services (in addition to annual broom chipping) using local chipping businesses and, possibly, traveling from neighborhood to neighbourhood. The PODs seemed a good place to begin to organize this chipping, possibly through the Salt Spring Island Foundation $500 Neighbourhood Grants. Unfortunately, these grants have been postponed until community activities can again be held safely.

Concerning other waste, Gary gave us a quick update on the Burgoyne Valley composting project. Community Services partnered with the Ag-Alliance to write a successful grant to the Foundation for $100,000. It is currently stalled in Islands Trust because the zoning does not allow selling the resulting compost. Therefore, the funding has been put on hold, at least temporarily.


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