Mental health and addictions merger ongoing in Fort St. James

Fort St. James now has a merged alcohol and drug counselling with mental health assistance, and the adjustments are ongoing.

Sometimes one is better than two.

At least when it’s doctor’s referrals to get help.

Patients who needed both addictions help and mental health help used to have to get two separate doctors referrals, but now can get help for both issues with one referral now.

This is one of the benefits which service providers point to as a positive after the integration of alcohol and drug counseling services into Northern Health’s Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The merger essentially dissolved Fort Alcohol and Drug Counseling Services (FADCS) and moved counsellors over under the umbrella of Northern Health, integrating their services with mental health services.

The combination of the two services was a source of concern for some people, prior to the merger, but one month after the event, many of those fears seem to have dissipated.

While the transition is still ongoing, and wasn’t “seamless” according to staff, at a recent open house held to introduce the new integrated services to the community, staff and their clients were both optimistic.

One client said “I’m glad you were still here to talk to” to the counsellors and said she felt supported and listened to through the changes.

One counsellor commented there had been some changes in the atmosphere of the office, after the sitting room had been removed, but staying in the same offices has helped to make the changes easier for the clients.

The mental health services has been moved down to the same offices as the addictions offices, but this was a positive change according to staff, as the office at the hospital was not as private or quiet.

While the limitations of being in a small town mean that the perfect building might not exist here, the staff did say it wasn’t the building or location that were the most important thing in the end.

The people providing the care are the key to the quality of the service, and the staff were confident they are well-equipped to continue to provide quality mental health and addiction services to the community.

The staff said there have been no decrease in the services, as there were one and a half alcohol and drug counsellors on staff before, and there are still one and a half counsellors on staff now.

As far as mental health services, there has actually been an increase, as there were only one and a half positions prior to the merger and now there are two full-time counsellors.

The FADCS staff who wanted to transition to working for Northern Health have successfully done so, and one person chose not to.