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Whitehorse’s detox centre is turning people away

Beds have been full most of March, health officials say
Kathy Bailey, photographed on March 23, is upset that her daughter was turned away from the Sarah Steele Alcohol and Drug Services facility when in need of a detox program. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse’s detox facility has had to turn away people looking to get clean more than 30 times this month mostly because the 14 beds were full.

Men looking for a bed at the Sarah Steele Alcohol and Drug Services building have been turned away 17 times in the month of March because there weren’t any beds, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

Women have been turned away 15 times either because there were no beds or because a person was too intoxicated and needed medical attention.

“For the past month they have been at capacity, they have been full, up to about two days ago,” department spokesperson Pat Living said March 27.

Living said the department’s numbers include people who have been turned away more than once.

For example, if a person’s doctor called, was denied a bed, and then the person showed up themselves, that would count as two events, not one, she said.

Kathy Bailey said her daughter, who is addicted to cocaine, asked to go to detox one morning earlier this month at about 2:30.

“I was so happy, I gave her a big hug, it’s the first time my daughter had reached out for help in five years.”

She said her daughter and another family member drove to the detox centre right away.

“She was quite upset when she had to come right back home, she just threw her things back down,” Bailey said.

“There was no engaging her, there was no ‘Come on in let’s have a coffee and talk and see what kind of plan we can make.’ It was just simply, ‘No, got nothing, see you.’”

Her daughter returned to detox later that day during regular hours and was again turned away, she said.

The News has spoken to other members of Bailey’s family, including the daughter who tried to get into detox, but has agreed not to publish their names.

The third time Bailey’s daughter tried for a bed she stayed in the car while a family member tried to check her in, they said. They said they were again turned away. Family members say during one of the attempts they witnessed another person begging to be let in the facility.

“I don’t think that people understand that when someone who is addicted reaches out for help, we as helpers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, we don’t have the choice to say, ‘OK well if this doesn’t work we’ll take you here,’” Bailey said.

“That drug addict has a one track mind, so when they reach for help, (you have to) do it now.”

Living could not say how often the detox beds in Whitehorse are at capacity. She called the situation a “rarity” but did not provide specifics or any explanation for why March was so busy.

It’s not a staffing issue, she said, the facility just ran out of beds.

On March 26 Health Minister Pauline Frost told the legislative assembly that there was no waitlist for detox “so clients come and they are provided immediate support.”

Frost made no mention of how full detox has been on the other days of the month.

While it is technically true that detox does not have a waitlist, that’s not always because no one is waiting to get in.

The facility does not take phone numbers to call people back who have been turned away because the beds are full, Living said. Beds are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis as soon as they are free.

“It’s kind of like the luck of the draw I guess on when a person presents.”

Living couldn’t explain why that was the policy. She said that’s how it is done in other facilities across the country.

“You have to keep in mind that you’re not paying to go to a clinic to dry out. This is a government-sponsored service so it is very much, first-come, first-serve.”

When someone comes to detox and there are no beds, different things can happen depending on their condition, Living said.

If they are intoxicated they could be sent to the hospital or to the RCMP to start detoxing. If they are not “overly intoxicated,” they could be referred to the Salvation Army, she said.

“For individuals who are sober and possibly going through withdrawal we will provide them with information on the services that they can access right away. So a group meeting, there’s drop ins during the afternoons at detox, there’s awareness sessions for sober ex-clients.”

The staff can’t make people listen, she said.

Living confirmed individuals are told to “check back the next morning” to see if there is a free bed.

Bailey was angry enough to call the facility herself to ask for help for her daughter. She said she pleaded with the person on the other end of the phone not to put her through to a manager’s voicemail.

“I said do not put me through to voicemail. I said this is a matter to me of life and death, I could lose my child anytime with this fentanyl in everything.”

She said she overheard someone she believes to be the manager tell the staff to put her through to voicemail anyway.

“They were extremely cold. I was a distraught mother who called in and they simply disregarded me. That’s really sad.”

Living confirmed that the office did get a voicemail from a concerned mother. That person did not leave a name or a contact phone number, she said.

By the third attempt, the family member who tried to check Bailey’s daughter in said they were quietly told by a staff member to try going to the hospital for detox.

Bailey’s daughter told the News she didn’t want to go to the hospital because it felt like “a runaround.” She said she would need to feel more respected by staff if she were to return to detox.

Living acknowledged that trying for three days to get into detox is a sign that someone “obviously really wants to come in.” She said there’s no record of anyone trying to check in three times over three days, though she admits that if someone else had tried to check Bailey’s daughter in it might have appeared differently on records.

Living claimed three attempts would mean there “might have been more of an effort to reach out” by staff, but she didn’t clarify what that meant.

Bailey said she doesn’t know what she’ll do next.

“If my daughter doesn’t ask for help again and we lost that opportunity, I don’t know what I’ll do. I just don’t want to lose my child.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at