The Sarah Steele Alcohol and Drug Services building in Whitehorse on April 1. According to data obtained by the News, 215 people seeking detox services were turned away in 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

People turned away from detox beds more than 200 times in 12 months

Officials say pressure has been reduced since the downtown shelter has come under government control

Between April 2018 and March 2019, people have been turned away from beds at the Yukon government’s detox facility 215 times, according to government data obtained by the News.

Government officials say the Sarah Steele Alcohol and Drug Services building had a busy 2018 but amount of times people have been turned away has since gone down.

The building has 14 adult beds. Four youth beds are located in a separate wing. All are specific to the withdrawal program.

There are 24 beds for an intensive treatment program, which is different from detox.

There’s no waitlist at the facility, as it operates on a first-come-first-serve basis, said Cameron Grandy, manager of Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services, adding that people from outside Whitehorse can call in advance in order to reserve a bed.

Potential clients have been refused access when the building has been at-capacity, he said.

According to the data, there were times when the facility was full over 11 months.

It typically takes about 72-hours for someone to go through withdrawal, Grandy said.

“Youth, to my knowledge, have not been turned away.”

This trend has been bucked to a degree, Grandy said. The number of refused visits at Sarah Steele has decreased of late, a result, he said, of the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

The Yukon government officially took control of the shelter from the Salvation Army on Jan. 31.

“There are more people that are able to use that facility, perhaps who aren’t looking to detox but are looking for a safe place to stay,” Grandy said. “It’s come down a lot, the number of people who are looking for a safe place as opposed to that place to go to actually get medical assistance in withdrawing from the substance of choice.”

No one was refused access at Sarah Steele in February.

The same doesn’t hold true in March, when there were 17 refusals.

A health and social services spokesperson called this issue “an exception.”

“There were five days in March where we experienced staffing shortages and had to modify the bed numbers to ensure safe staffing ratios for patients and nursing staff,” Clarissa Wall said in a written statement.

“We expect to have better staffing coverage in April and do not anticipate having to reduce the number of beds available,” she added.

Liberal cabinet spokesperson Janine Workman said that if people aren’t able to access services at Sarah Steele, they’re referred to the hospital or the shelter.

“As the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter is now operating as a low-barrier shelter,” she said in a written statement, “there are more options available for those seeking a safe place to sleep.

“Our practice is not simply to turn individuals away.”

The issue was part of a debate at the legislature on April 1.

Pauline Frost, minister of health and social services, said from April to November — before her department took over the shelter — an average of 23.5 people were turned away from Sarah Steele each month.

“Since December,” she continued, “we saw that number drop to 6.75 individuals per month — so an indication that the pressures are now diverted somewhat.”

Health and social services clarified after the publication of this article that the numbers Frost provided are wrong, as refusals are based on the number of visits not the number of individual people.

Clarification

Following the publication of this story, the Department of Health and Social Services clarified that despite Minister Frost’s reference to individuals being turned away, the data actually refers to the number of times someone was refused service. One individual could count as multiple refusals. The story also mistakenly said the facility was full for 11 months. The News regrets that error.

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