Outreach worker Tara Jeeves considers it an honour and a blessing to connect people to care when they are at their most vulnerable.
As a member of the new Episodic Overdose Prevention Services (eOPS) team at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Tara is helping to reduce the harms from the toxic drug supply by providing witnessed consumption of substances for patients and visitors.
“Sometimes, just holding an umbrella and being there for someone can build trust because I speak their language,” says Tara. “My life went sideways when I was 47 years old, and I also struggled with substance use.”
Tara and her colleagues on the eOPS team escort patients to designated areas outside of the hospital or to the overdose prevention site at Quibble Creek Sobering and Assessment Centre to have their substance use witnessed. The team also provides discreet service outside of the hospital for those who smoke or inhale substances.
“Meeting people where they are at is critical to building trust and reducing barriers to care,” said Jennifer Whiteside, minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “The Episodic Overdose Prevention Services team at Surrey Memorial Hospital makes it easier for people who use substances to connect with supports they need, as well as referrals to short and long-term care both in the hospital and in the community.”
“People who use substances face multiple barriers in accessing care,” says Erin Gibson, manager of Clinical Operations, Toxic Drug Response and Priority Populations, Fraser Health. “Many people won’t disclose their substance use due to the stigma that comes with it, so by having an advocate to help them through the system and providing a safe and supportive environment, our eOPS team is helping to keep people engaged in care so they get the health services they need.”
Episodic overdose prevention services complement existing overdose prevention and supervised consumption services by providing witnessed consumption in a variety of places where people may use substances and can include shelters, congregate housing, community-based settings and clinics. This is Fraser Health’s first hospital-based eOPS team.
The team helps people address their substance use while in hospital, and also provides overdose prevention education, harm reduction supplies including Take Home Naloxone kits, as well as facilitating referrals to treatment and other mental health and substance use services.
eOPS is an example of the broad continuum of hospital and community-based mental health and substance use services that support people who need immediate care as well as connections to appropriate services and supports in their community.
“There was a time when I didn’t know there were services available to help me,” explains Tara. “I recently had a guy come up to me outside the hospital and say, ‘Thank-you for what you’re doing.’ I replied: ‘You’re welcome.’ And he said: ‘No, seriously, thank you for treating us like human beings.’"
“I know what he meant,” adds Tara, “because I’ve been there.”