Public and political pressure is ramping up as supporters of Pathways Addictions Resource Centre in Penticton, B.C., rally to save it from possible closure.
Supporters held a second rally on Sunday. Many shared how the programming and counselling services offered by Pathways for mental health and addictions issues saved their lives or the life of a loved one.
“I am ten months clean tomorrow. I go here for counselling and I’ve got my counsellor here, I’ve got a support group here, and I’m taking a course here,” said Gord Portman.
“I don’t like this situation. I’m happy where I’m at with Pathways. There are good services here and I know the people and I trust them,” he said.
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Dawn Swanson credited the centre for supporting her family during a difficult time.
“Pathways has kept my body and soul together for many years. I thought I would lose my daughter and I didn’t know how to cope and I lost my son this July in Calgary to fentanyl. My husband, my daughter and myself, they have kept us together and I just can’t have them go away,” she said.
The non-profit organization announced on March 2 that Interior Health planned to cancel its three addictions services contracts as of May 31.
The health authority wants to bring the substance use services in-house to create a single point of access.
Pathways received $500,000 in annual funding to support approximately 1,000 clients per year.
“I think Pathways has done a good job. Interior Health has just decided to come in and shut it down and I don’t think they can handle it,” rallygoer Sherman Wallace said on Sunday.
Political pressure is also mounting. The closing provided fodder for the opposition BC Liberals during question period last week.
“For 20 years, Pathways has delivered critical services, this non-profit is being forced to close because this government decides it knows best,” said Trevor Halford, the critic for mental health and addictions.
“This is an expansion of service which is just what our government is committed to,” rebutted Sheila Malcolmson, B.C. minister of mental health and addictions.
Penticton Liberal MLA Dan Ashton said his office has been flooded with correspondence from concerned citizens.
“It’s the biggest issue that I’ve had to deal with inside of our constituency office since I got elected,” Ashton said.
“I’m hearing from the families and the loved ones who have had incredible success for their spouses and their children with Pathways.”
After weeks of public pressure, Interior Health’s CEO Susan Brown released an op-ed on Friday that said, in part, “the current model and services contracted through Pathways is preventing people from accessing the full range of available supports.”
Daryl Meyers, Pathway’s executive director, is furious with Brown’s comments.
“We had hoped this would be an amicable transition, we had hoped we would be able to work closely with IH and make things a smooth as possible, and then for this to come out to the public,” she said.
Supporters vow to rally outside the addictions resource centre on Main St. every Sunday afternoon to keep the issue in the public spotlight.
“I think that they should keep Pathways open and give them a chance,” protester Lorran Grace said.
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Meanwhile, Pathways is fundraising and will consider grant opportunities in an attempt to keep its doors open.
“We want to switch and pivot our services to really look at bringing a withdrawal management program to Penticton and to be able to serve people who still want to access treatment through us so we are looking to ramp up our fundraising,” Meyers said.
Interior Health did not make anyone available on Sunday.