For the past five years, Linda Webster, her husband, and Keith Stannard (names of the worker and client have been changed to protect their identity) have celebrated Christmas together.
They’ve celebrated birthdays, and share meals six days a week together.
Over the years, Webster has even helped Keith re-establish contact with estranged relatives.
Now she’s fearful for Keith’s mental health and safety.
In a few months he will be leaving her home and will be moving to the Washington Inn apartments in Courtenay – a move Webster says is against the wishes of both Keith and herself.
Webster is vehemently against the idea, so much so that she is willing to lose the support of her employer in order to keep Keith living at home with her family.
Webster is Keith’s mental health family care home provider. It is a contract position with Island Health, which is renewed annually.
Webster and her husband have supported Keith within their home environment since January 2012, and says she is “horrified” that Island Health would even consider moving Keith into a suite in the now BC Housing-owned subsidized housing.
“Removing (Keith) – or any other person with a mental illness – from a safe, secure, home atmosphere and throwing them into a living situation … surrounded by drug addicts … is the absolute worst thing to do to one of our most vulnerable. These people need to feel and be safe and secure in a home atmosphere, something Keith has rarely felt until living here.”
Webster received word of the decision to move Keith a few weeks ago. The idea, she notes, was that clients are to be removed from homes and placed in bachelor suites at the Washington Inn to teach them how to live independently.
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“My biggest concerns are for his safety and mental health. I’m sure I can maintain contact with Keith if he moves, but he certainly won’t have the same type of care that he receives here. I’m informed that there will be a ‘worker’ on staff 24-hours-a-day but that most certainly isn’t the same thing as living in and being part of a family.”
At Webster’s home, Keith has his own bedroom, a furnished rec room and a half bath. He performs daily chores and Webster helps ensure he is ready for work, monitors his daily medications, makes medical appointments, provides support, and listens to concerns he has regarding his mental illness and more.
Since living at their home, Webster says Keith has not experienced a single psychotic episode.
Last week, a spokeswoman for BC Housing told The Record the Crown corporation has received multiple complaints of drug use at the Washington Inn, and they are working with the Comox Valley RCMP to respond to reports of illegal drug activity.
Since the purchase of the Washington Inn by BC Housing last year, tenants have issued complaints about safety, drug use and services within the complex, which has 120 residential apartments.
Webster says she would be seriously concerned for her safety if she had to go to the apartment for Keith.
“I’m glad the ‘powers that be’ are making affordable housing for people on low income, but to make someone who would be a target or with a mental illness live there against their will (or lose the support of Island Health) is totally irresponsible and uncaring.”
She adds she believes it’s completely against the best interest of Keith to live independently in an apartment – regardless of where it might be.
“He does not do well living on his own. He requires a home environment like he has now to function effectively and be happy. Like mom used to say, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Keith has become a part of our family and it breaks my heart to think of (Island Health) moving him into a situation like that.”
Webster says she, along with her husband, are willing to have Keith live with them at their home for many years to come. If a time comes when he can no longer live with their family, she adds, he would need to move into another home care environment.
Because of patient confidentiality, Island Health says they cannot speak about specific cases; however, Lisa Murphy, the organization’s director of mental health and substance use for Central/North Island, notes they often present options to clients, including those in family care homes potential options that they see as the next best step.
“We always look at related assessments, the family doctor, the psychiatrist, other care providers, for home and community care, the family, the client,” she explains in an email. “This is a critical part of the care planning process.”
She says when making important decisions such as where a client will live, Island Health always takes into consideration the best interests of their clients.
“At this point in time, we don’t place clients at the Washington Inn except as market housing. It is one of the housing options available to everyone, including our clients. It is not a mental health housing. It’s just one of our options.”
Any client can move along the continuum of care options based on need, assessment and client goals, says Murphy.
“Family care homes are one option; if a client doesn’t need a family care home or if their needs increase again, then the options change again.”