‘A System of Chess’: South Vancouver Island’s Adult Eating Disorder Services Quietly Ceased – Vancouver Island Free Daily
Sara Maksymowicz knew that finding help for her eating disorder would be an uphill battle, but she didn’t think she would lose that help over time.
The 48-year-old has been using services administered by the South Vancouver Island Region Eating Disorders Program since 2018. The program is part of a provincial eating disorder care framework, but local advocates say the framework fails for adults.
Eating disorders are a range of conditions characterized by mental illness and abnormal eating habits.
Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, among other manifestations.
Eating disorder services in British Columbia are funded by the province and administered by regional health authorities in partnership with the Ministry of Children and Family Services (MCFS).
For clients in the South Vancouver Island region, the ministry oversees all non-emergency service options for eating disorders in adults. In the past, these services included individual and group counseling as well as workshops to promote healthy skills.
However, in 2019, South Island customers no longer had the option of one-on-one advice.
Documents obtained through an access to information request and provided to Black Press Media confirmed that the region had moved to a “group service delivery model” for processing that year.
Later, these group services were quietly removed as well.
In the fall of 2021, clients of the South Island’s non-emergency adult eating disorder services began to hear rumors of the care being cut. Some have heard it from their case manager or GP, while others have found out through friends or even online.
Without concrete information on the fate of South Island adult services, local advocates intervened.
Vancouver Island Voices for Eating Disorders, a citizen rights advocacy group, has launched an online petition demanding that the BC government “take urgent action to support adults with eating disorders in our community â. As of December 14, the petition had collected 596 signatures.
Client says cuts make symptoms worse
Greater Victoria resident and group co-founder Sally Chaster has lived with anorexia nervosa for over 50 years. Although she has needed emergency care before, she told Black Press Media, her upcoming admission to an inpatient program in Vancouver appears to have been easily avoided.
The feelings of isolation and anxiety fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic worsened her eating disorder and led her to seek help in the South Island, Chaster said. But when she found resources, they were either full or canceled.
Without any preventive service at his disposal, Chaster’s condition worsened. Because her needs now exceed what local services provide, she was referred to the provincial tertiary eating disorder treatment program at Providence Health Care.
This inpatient treatment program will last at least seven weeks and will require Chaster to travel to Vancouver.
âI really needed this structured and supportive environment to restore better eating habits,â she said, adding that her admission to St. Paul’s Hospital is âmade necessary by a system of failuresâ.
âDue to the lack of any knowledge about eating disorders, I am heading to St. Paul’s,â she said. âI won’t have Christmas with my family. I won’t have New Years with my family.
Changes are only temporary, ministry says
An increase in eating disorders reported during the pandemic and a lack of trained personnel forced authorities to cut less essential services, the ministry said in a statement.
“To ensure that the most vulnerable populations receive services, clinical priorities have been reviewed,” the statement said. âThe priority populations that will be seen are adults with acute and urgent needs, young people 19 years of age and under and their families. “
The ministry told Black Press Media it expects the cut of non-emergency services for adult eating disorders in the South Island region to be temporary, but has declined to provide a schedule for restarting programs.
In the meantime, he recommends adults on the South Island to look for other options.
âThose adults in Victoria requiring less acute services will be encouraged to connect with a GP or nurse practitioner and online resources. These resources include provincial programs, a local peer support group, and private clinicians and dietitians. But at least one expert thinks these substitutes won’t be enough.
Cole Little is a licensed clinical advisor who worked part-time administering services at the South Island Eating Disorders Clinic for over a decade until May 2021.
Now working exclusively as a private advisor, Little said the program changes came as a surprise.
âI actually heard about the program changes for the first time through my own clients,â she told Black Press Media. “It left a lot of them in a state of panic.”
Little said that multidisciplinary, comprehensive programs for adults with eating disorders are irreplaceable, especially given the continuing shortage of primary care professionals in Greater Victoria.
With many of her questions unanswered, Little said she was unsure of how to help clients get the care they need from community resources.
Makysmowicz confessed that she worries about those close to her who rely heavily on programming.
âI don’t want to hear about the deaths of my friends,â she said. “Not having this service means that many of us are going to die quietly.”
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Greater VictoriaHealth and WellnessIsland HealthMental Health