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Vancouverites write letters of support to save the Rainier program. Photo: Carlos Tello

Study shows unique addiction program for women works

A scientific evaluation of the Downtown Eastside’s unique women-only drug treatment program — one that is being threatened with closure…

By Carlos Tello , in City Health , on November 21, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Vancouverites write letters of support to save the Rainier program. Photo: Carlos Tello
Vancouverites write letters of support to save the Rainier program. (Photo: Carlos Tello)

A scientific evaluation of the Downtown Eastside’s unique women-only drug treatment program — one that is being threatened with closure at the end of November — shows that it has been remarkably successful in recruiting the most vulnerable women in the neighbourhood and reducing their overall drug use.

But Vancouver Coastal Health is dismissing those results and believes that the large involvement of the PHS (Portland Hotel Society) Community Services Society in the evaluation — which operates the program alongside the health authority — has biased the results.

The study by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and PHS has not yet been formally made public, but is already on the Internet.

The evaluation of the Rainier Women’s Treatment Program shows that it has not only helped women address their addictions but has also diagnosed health conditions women were unaware of before therapy and reduced health risks associated with drug use. Additionally, the program has successfully connected its residents to community services they can continue to use after completing treatment.

The study also shows that the Rainier stands out when compared with another Greater Vancouver addiction centre.

“The Rainier Women’s Treatment Program has shown to be more effective at reaching its targeted population of extremely marginalized women, in reducing drug use, at least during treatment, and has higher rates of methadone maintenance usage than the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction,” the study says.

The Burnaby Centre was used, according to the evaluation, because their clientele is very similar to the Rainier’s and because the Burnaby Centre often works with people from the Downtown Eastside. The Burnaby Centre was set up four years ago to tackle the province’s most severe cases of people with mental health, physical, and addiction problems. It costs more than $14 million a year to provide the intensive treatment, with about 100 beds.

Anna Marie D’Angelo, a senior media relations officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, thinks comparing the Rainier with the Burnaby Centre was not valid.

“The evaluation… makes comparisons with other programs that are quite different, which is inappropriate and arbitrary,” she said in an email.

In her opinion, the Rainier hasn’t proved better than other drug-addiction treatment programs besides Burnaby’s.

“There’s no evidence at present… that the Rainier program is any better than any other program already available to women with addictions … in Vancouver,” D’Angelo said.

The Rainier started in 2009 as the first women-only program in DTES. Photo: Carlos Tello
The Rainier started in 2009 as the first women’s-only program in the Downtown Eastside. (Photo: Carlos Tello)

The Portland Hotel Society is one of Vancouver Coastal Health’s major service providers. During the last fiscal year, it was paid more than $ 9.5 million by the health authority for its work running social housing and health services in the Downtown Eastside.

D’Angelo said the evaluation reflects PHS’s biases.

“Our biggest concern with the evaluation is that it was not performed by an independent third-party; it was largely conducted by PHS, measuring its own progress. Given this bias, it is unlikely that it would hold up to academic scrutiny.”

VCH was not concerned about that when the methodology was planned, according to the evaluation report.

The evaluation notes: “At the suggestion and encouragement of Vancouver Coastal Health, the qualitative/participatory component of the evaluation was sub-contracted by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS to the Portland Hotel Society. Both aspects were approved under the UBC/Providence Health Research Ethics Board.”

Vancouver Coastal Health also said that the Rainier was developed as a temporary research program and that, after residents are transitioned to their own clinical services, they will be able to access more services than they previously did.

Finally, D’Angelo said that the Portland is not eager to negotiate.

“Portland Hotel Society is unwilling to look at any options other than status quo as far as their funding contracts at the Rainier site.”

The program is about to close because its funding ends the last day of November and Vancouver Coastal Health has confirmed there won’t be a funding extension, even though the study recommended not only that the Rainier program should be maintained but that it should be expanded.

Fighting to maintain the program

But the Portland’s staff and directors, which has worked for almost 20 years in the Downtown Eastside developing and implementing support services for residents, say they won’t sit back and watch the program shut down.

Almost a month ago, Rainier staff members started holding public demonstrations outside Vancouver Coastal Health’s offices in support of the program. With Bob Marley’s peace-and-love hymns as the soundtrack, they explained the Rainier’s program to pedestrians and encouraged them to write letters to the premier and prime minister — on laptops the staff set up on the street — supporting the program.

They say they won’t stop until they save the Rainier.

“Nobody [else] is fighting for these ladies so we have to make sure that we [do it] to get what they need. The services have been opened for 4 really successful years and we have to make sure that it continues. We’ll be here every day,” said Jackie Rumble, a program manager for the Rainier.