Burnaby to look at training warming centre staff in overdose response

Burnaby city staff will be studying potential naloxone and overdose prevention training at the city’s warming centres after a request by an overdose crisis working group that the training and resources be put in place at the centres.

The Burnaby Community Action Team (BCAT) on the Overdose Crisis penned a letter to council in late May with two calls to action for the city, including providing overdose response training and supplies to warming centre staff.

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“As illicit drug overdoses continue to rise, it is imperative that facilities supporting the homeless population in our city follow best practice measures,” reads the letter. “This means ensuring warming centre staff have access to overdose response supplies and basic training in relation to overdose recognition and response.”

The letter is cosigned by Michel Pouliot, executive director of Burnaby Family Life, and Dr. Lindsay McCaffrey with the Burnaby Division of Family Practices, along with several BCAT member organizations, including the Progressive Housing Society, Mosaic Burnaby Centre for Immigrants and the Burnaby Society to End Homelessness.

“In the event of an overdose, the wait time between a call to first responders and their arrival can cause permanent brain injury or death. Such experiences can be incredibly upsetting for witnesses and for staff,” reads the letter.

“Frontline workers who are not provided with the training and tools to respond often feel traumatized and powerless.”

The letter notes staff have taken sick leave in other jurisdictions as a result of that trauma, and some Burnaby warming centre staff are already taking naloxone to work.

In a report to council this week, staff said the city would need to “evaluate the operational implications of the request and would have to determine the advisability and feasibility of the request in order to evaluate whether or not this would be an effective additional measure to prevent overdoses in this context.”

Asked why the city would need to study the measure when naloxone training has been widely available for years, city spokesperson Chris Bryan said it is “standard for the city’s risk manager to review all procedures which may affect the health and safety of our patrons and staff, and which may result in liability exposure.”

The BCAT letter also called on the city to expand its resources for the homeless community in Burnaby during the pandemic, including keeping the warming centres, the last of which closed on July 1, open until an emergency shelter has been established in the city.

An emergency shelter is currently planned for the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex, and in the meantime, BC Housing has secured more hotel rooms to house local homeless individuals.

That Burnaby Lake emergency shelter, however, is only expected to be open until December, when construction of the Burnaby Lake complex replacement is set to begin.

“As the health of this population is already compromised, a COVID-19 outbreak would have a devastating impact,” reads the letter. “We know that the proposed locations for the ERC may serve as recreational sites when restrictions are lifted but the need to support vulnerable people and save lives must absolutely supersede residents’ access to such facilities.”

Staff also suggested the city work with community partners to develop short- and long-term actions to address homelessness.

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