Changes announced this week to improve the safety and quality of care in B.C. recovery homes are disappointing, says the South Surrey mother of a young man whose son’s death in a Surrey recovery home last December went unnoticed for hours.
“I guess it’s a step in the right direction,” Maggie Plett said of steps announced by Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy Wednesday morning during a news conference in New Westminster.
“I’m just not happy with the ALR (Assisted Living Registry) and how they just dropped the ball.”
Darcy was at the Last Door Recovery Society with Minister of Health Adrian Dix for Wednesday’s announcement, and said new regulations taking effect Dec. 1 include requirements that staff at such facilities have proper skills, training and qualifications, and that operators provide program and policy information to prospective clients up-front.
As well, the regulations will allow the province to act more quickly when problems with a facility are reported, she said.
“There have been many horror stories that we have all heard about,” Darcy said.
“For too long, little attention has been paid to how recovery homes operated. In many ways, it was like the wild west. Nobody was watching… and this has put people at risk.”
Plett told Peace Arch News immediate action is something the province “should’ve been able to do… from the get-go.”
She said she was told by Darcy during a July meeting that the ministry was aware of facilities that weren’t following existing rules, and said the province’s failure to pursue such complaints is “the reason why my son’s dead.”
Zach Plett, 21, was found face-down in a bed – which his mom saw later the same day was fitted with mouldy sheets – at the 9310 132 St. Step by Step location at around 4 p.m. on Dec. 15. His actual time of death was later pinpointed by the coroner at between 9 a.m. and noon.
At the time, the Step by Step site was one of five in the city operating under the same name, all licensed by the municipality and registered with the provincial ALR.
City of Surrey bylaw services manager Kim Marosevich confirmed to PAN last week that two of those five facilities, including the one where Zach died, were voluntarily closed by the operator – the first on July 19, and the second (at 13210 89 Ave.) on July 31 – and their respective business licences were cancelled on the same days.
As of PAN’s press deadline Wednesday afternoon, all five sites were still listed on the ALR.
Darcy acknowledged at the news conference that there were “serious concerns raised about certain recovery homes operated by Step by Step.”
“The ALR and health authority are continuing to look at the issue,” she said.
She said most of the province’s recovery homes provide good support, but there are some that haven’t and they are being regulated or shut down.
Darcy said more announcements around regulation are “coming soon” – legislation allowing for the restrictions was passed by the previous government in 2016 – but added there is a recognition “that we still have a long way to go.”
For Plett, the government’s continued delay in taking action simply doesn’t make sense.
“That long way should be a short way, because people are dying as we speak,” she said. “Pick up the pace. Let’s get rid of the bureaucracy and just do what you need to do.”
– with files from Tom Fletcher