Health minister promises action on addictions services after meeting with advocate

A P.E.I. woman is asking the province for more addictions services. Ellen Taylor spent 12 years struggling with an addiction to alcohol and other drugs as well as eating disorders. 

"Started with alcohol. I'd say in the teenage years it was always like to go and be the partier and kind of be the funniest and thinnest," she said.

She spent time at the Mount Herbert Addictions Treatment Facility, as well as a treatment centre in Nova Scotia.

"I just did the work. I journalled and I worked out and I ate healthy and I just faced all the stuff ... the limiting beliefs I had about myself in the past and the guilt and shame and it worked," she said.

Now that she's in recovery, Taylor said she wants to advocate for more detox beds and counsellors at Mount Herbert and Lacey House, a women's recovery centre.

Steve Bruce/CBC

In an email to CBC, government officials said there are 34 beds at Mount Herbert — 18 transition beds and 16 detox beds. 

"The detox beds are often at full capacity. Due to high demand there can be a wait list, especially this time of year," the email said.

It also said the government has filled two counsellor positions at Mount Herbert, which they hope will cut down on wait times.

Shouldn't have to wait

"If someone is ready to go to detox, you need to get someone in there, because that can change," Taylor said.

I know the pain so familiarly that people go through and it's just heartbreaking. — Ellen Taylor

When someone reaches out for help you need to strike when the "iron's hot," she said, because someone can quickly change their mind on getting help.

Taylor said she has heard of waits as long as two weeks to get into detox.

"It's crazy that we're making people wait that long to get into to get medical attention for their problem — it's terrible."

She said she saw a man at a recent meeting crying about being stuck on a waiting list for detox and he didn't know what to do.

Steve Bruce/CBC

"I know that he didn't have money or a safe house to go to," she said, noting she worried the man might hurt himself.

"I know the pain so familiarly that people go through and it's just heartbreaking."

Taylor speaks from experience — she said she has been to recovery centres eight times and has spoken with many others who have also been in treatment.

"I've talked to people that are there, that have been there and I know myself from being in there."

'Doing a lot of work'

Earlier this week Taylor sent a letter to P.E.I. Health Minister James Aylward asking for help and highlighting her concerns with addiction treatment on the Island. In it, she wrote about wait times, bed availability and a lack of counsellors.

Taylor met with Aylward on Thursday. The health minister admits there are some challenges providing addiction treatment because of demand.

That is one of the things we need to do as a government, we need to hear from the people. — Health Minister James Aylward

"As a government we are doing a lot of work right now with regards to our master planning around mental health and addictions," he said. 

"Lacey House for example … we are actually going to be doubling the capacity of that facility from six to 12 beds," he said.

Aylward said there is typically a 97 per cent occupancy rate on those beds. 

"I'm the first one to admit if someone experiencing an addiction is reaching out today, we need to try to provide that service today," he said.

Aylward said the province has struggled the "last several years" when it comes to available addictions counsellors, but the government is looking into increasing the complement on P.E.I.

"We have just hired two and we're looking at hiring an additional two as well," Aylward said.

Public forum

Taylor is hoping to hold a public forum on addictions services next month. She said she will be inviting other people with addictions to share their stories and hopes politicians will listen.

"They just kind of want to not think about it because it is not a big medical importance to people until they deal with it themselves," Taylor said.

Aylward said he wants to be part of the forum. 

"I'm looking forward to partnering with Ellen on this," he said. "That is one of the things we need to do as a government, we need to hear from the people."

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