South Surrey mother Maggie Plett reflects on her son, Zach, during an August interview with Peace Arch News. Zach died last December at a Step by Step recovery home. (File photo)

Closure of Surrey recovery homes ‘bittersweet,’ says grieving mom

South Surrey mother says she plans to keep a close eye on how facilities are monitored

The mother of a young man who died of a fentanyl overdose last December at a Surrey recovery home says new regulations that kicked in this month giving authorities power to act immediately on concerns came too late for more people than just her son, Zach.

“It’s so unfortunate that someone else had to die in the meantime,” Maggie Plett said Monday, referring to a Nov. 27 fire at Step by Step Recovery Society’s 8058 138A St. home, in which one person was killed.

READ MORE: UPDATE: One person dead after Surrey house fire

“This man wasn’t given a second chance,” Plett said of the victim, identified only as a man in his thirties. “Zach hasn’t been given a second chance…

“It’s about time (the operator)’s been shut down. I’m just really disappointed that it took so long.”

Plett, a South Surrey resident, was referring to news she received last week that all of the sites associated with Step by Step Recovery have had their Assisted Living Registry (ALR) registrations cancelled.

The cancellations – a decision Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions officials confirm was made on Nov. 26, following initial notice provided to the operator on Aug. 30 – mean the homes no longer meet the City of Surrey’s business-licence requirements.

“If a facility cannot meet the ALR requirements, and as a result, the ALR revokes their permit, the City will terminate the recovery home’s business licence,” the city’s manager of corporate services, Rob Costanzo, confimed by email Monday.

“Approximately 12 people were affected by this closure, with 6 still seeking alternate housing.”

A statement from the ministry, emailed to Peace Arch News Tuesday afternoon, notes the Step by Step operator “is expected to begin an orderly transition of current residents to other registered supportive recovery homes.”

The operator had requested reconsideration of the cancellation decision, the statement notes, however, following a review, “registry staff… were not satisfied that the outstanding areas of non-compliance had been addressed.”

Seeing the remaining Step by Step sites close – two others, including the one where Zach died, closed in July – has been a goal of Plett’s from the get-go, and she said it’s never made sense to her that the sites had been able to keep operating despite the number of concerns reported.

As of this week, the ALR website still listed the fire-damaged 138A Street home, as well as Step by Step’s 12442 78A Ave. and 11854 97A Ave. sites. Substantiated complaints regarding each home cite issues ranging from a lack of nutritious meals and staff qualifications to a lack of support for residents transitioning out of the residence.

Plett saw firsthand the “brutal” conditions under which the home where her son died were operating, when she had to pick up his belongings on the day that he died. The bed where Zach was found face-down was fitted with mouldy sheets, and the 21-year-old’s roommate was already wearing a pair of Zach’s shoes, Plett told Peace Arch News in May.

Worse still was that Zach’s death went seemingly unnoticed for hours, at a facility where he’d gone in his quest for help with his addictions.

READ MORE: Grieving mom says son who died in Surrey recovery house ‘would’ve been better off homeless’

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy announced in August that changes were coming to regulations governing B.C. recovery homes; changes that she said “speak to the issue of safety, accountability, having a clear plan for every patient, overdose prevention.”

“There are many ways that these regulations will assist in preventing those kinds of tragedies – many kinds of tragedies – in the future,” Darcy told PAN during a press conference held at Trilogy House One in North Surrey, responding to questions regarding Zach’s death and that of another man at a related Step by Step home nine days later.

Operators were given three months to prepare for the changes, which took effect Dec. 1 and include requirements around proper training for recovery home staff, and the ability for enforcement action to be taken “immediately” after an issue is identified or a complaint laid.

Prior to Dec. 1, it took up to 30 days for action to be taken, and written notice was required.

With the one-year anniversary of her son’s Dec. 15 death just days away, Plett said the 30-day minimum cited “was just a poor excuse” for inaction.

Substantiated complaints against the home where Zach died had cited non-compliance with regard to staff skills and safe site management; residents’ access to information about the residence, supports and services prior to entering; and psychosocial supports that assist in long-term recovery.

One, dating back to November 2018, cited non-compliance in providing a “safe, secure and sanitary environment” for residents; safely prepared and nutritious meals; and more.

But even 30 days after complaints, “there was still nothing done,” Plett said.

Plett described news of the Step by Step closures as “bittersweet.”

“It doesn’t bring my son back,” she said. “I feel much better knowing that no one else will die (at Step by Step).”

At the same time, Plett said she is not going to just assume that the new regulations mean things will be better going forward.

“Oh no,” she said. “I’ll be keeping an eye on this.”



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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