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Comox woman battling eating disorder, government funding

FORMER ISLAND IDOL Amber Foster is struggling with anorexia nervosa and a shortage of government funding. - Scott Stanfield
FORMER ISLAND IDOL Amber Foster is struggling with anorexia nervosa and a shortage of government funding.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

A Comox woman struggling with anorexia nervosa is appealing to the Province to help her return to an eating disorder program in Edmonton that she attended this year — and which she credits for saving her life.

She says the B.C. government, however, would no longer fund her as an outpatient at the University of Alberta Hospital.

"They put you in the transitional program to make sure you can make it," Amber Foster said. "They (Health Ministry) said they would cut off all my funding."

Before going to Edmonton, Foster was under the impression she would remain for the entire program and that she would be able to pay her rent.

"But instead they said we would cut you off from everything and we would give you $91. I had to come home. I had no choice. I didn't even have time to utilize the program because I was mostly in the surgery ward."

Foster — the 2004 Island Idol winner — has struggled with anorexia since her teens. Over the years she has suffered heart attacks, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), seizures and pneumonia. At one point she weighed 67 pounds.

Following her stay in Edmonton, the five-foot, three-inch Foster was up to about 115 pounds, which was within normal Body Mass Index parameters.

"That's when you go into the transitional part of the program," said Foster, who has lost about 30 pounds in the past two months.

She said those who suffer an eating disorder have the highest mortality rate (20 per cent) of any psychological disorder.

"Why wouldn't the Minister of Health put out more facilities and do more actions to get things straight so that relapses don't happen? And so that people don't have to go out of province?"

The ministry cannot speak to individual cases.

"We recognize the tremendous challenges families cope with on a daily basis when a loved one has complex medical issues, such as an eating disorder," the ministry said in a statement. "It is important that any client receives the most appropriate treatment to meet their needs, whether that is in an outpatient, residential or inpatient setting, as determined by clinical experts. The ultimate goal is to help people recover and live in their own communities — and we need to ensure supports are available for people close to home."

Clinicians work closely with clients and family doctors to develop a care plan to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which includes psychological support, health checkups and dietician support. However, the ministry said it cannot force people into care.

"Clients need to be willing to attend meetings and participate in the care that is offered to them," the statement said.

Foster has attended the North Island Regional Eating Disorder Program offered by the Vancouver Island Health Authority. Services focus on education, supports and therapy. High-level intervention care is run provincially at Children’s Hospital for youths and St. Paul’s Hospital for adults. Both facilities are in Vancouver.

VIHA also offers a TeleHealth option where a Victoria-based psychiatrist provides consultations. As well, the Eric Martin Pavilion in Victoria has bed availability for eating disorder clients.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development also funds services for those with eating disorders in the Comox Valley, Campbell River, Nanaimo and Victoria.

"We have an obligation to serve clients who make appointments and show up for those appointments," VIHA said in a statement that notes misinformation provided to media that appointments were cancelled.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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