Two top officials have left B.C.’s Overdose Emergency Response Centre (OERC), prompting several of their colleagues to suggest their departures signal problems within the province’s coordinated response to the overdose epidemic.
For the past year, Dr. Patricia Daly served as executive lead of the OERC and Miranda Compton was the organization’s director. Now they’ve both resumed full-time positions with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).
In a telephone interview, Leslie McBain, an OERC committee member and cofounder of the advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm, said both women did an “amazing” job and should have had their contracts renewed.
“What does it say? I’m not sure,” she told the Georgia Straight. “But I think it’s got to be frustration.”
In a separate interview, Garth Mullins, another OERC committee member who also works with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), expressed a similar sentiment. “I can only read this as a vote of nonconfidence in the OERC,” Mullins told the Straight.
He suggested the departures are symptomatic of larger issues within the organization and the province’s high-level response to the opioid epidemic.
“This thing was launched with great fanfare a year ago under the Incident Command System, a universal hierarchy and blueprint for handling emergencies,” Mullins said. “I thought this was great. That this is what we needed to do. But then they never gave the incident commander—who, in this case, was Dr. Patty Daly—they never gave her the authority or the resources to go in, act fast, and implement.”
Daly is chief medical health officer for VCH and Compton is the regional health authority’s director for prevention and addiction programs. The OERC was established in December 2017, and both Daly and Compton’s OERC contracts were written for terms of one year.
Both McBain and Mullins praised Daly and Compton, emphasizing that they would have liked to continue working under them.
“They did everything they possibly could,” McBain said. “Both of them know very well what is needed here, and they were just hooped. They were not given the agency or the funding. Their work was not prioritized by the Ministry of Health.”
Daly was travelling and unavailable for an interview. Reached by phone, Compton said that their departures were planned long in advance.
Pressed on whether the nonrenewals could be taken as a no-confidence vote in the OERC, Compton responded: “That’s not what this is. I signed up for a one-year secondment, which started December 1 of last year, when we launched the centre. I never envisioned it for more than a year. It was an opportunity to work at the provincial level and to get to know what other regions are doing and other government structures.”
Compton emphasized that both her and Daly will continue with active roles in VCH’s response to the crisis, which killed more than 1,450 people across the province last year.
Judy Darcy, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, told the Straight that a smooth transition is underway. “We are looking for the right candidates to fill their shoes right now,” she said.
Responding to claims that the OERC’s leaders lacked the authority necessary to mount an effective response to the overdose epidemic, Darcy credited the team with a list of accomplishments.
Specifically, she noted that the OERC has divvied up grants to the 20 cities worst affected by the crisis. “Community action teams have been really critical in getting all of the things we decided on as responses happening on the ground,” Darcy said.
“The escalation of the distribution of naloxone, expanding overdose-prevention sites…connecting more people to treatment, having more prescribers out there who can prescribe safe drugs as alternatives to a poisoned drug supply—all of those things have expanded significantly across the province, and not just in the locations where people know there is a crisis but in lots of communities where people didn’t realize there is a crisis,” Darcy continued.
McBain described Daly and Compton as two of the best health professionals B.C. has and said it’s hard to see how their departures can be anything but a loss for the OERC.
“They worked tirelessly; they worked to the point,” McBain said. “And I know our [fatal overdose] numbers for 2018 are going to be terrible.”