Newly elected St. John's Centre NDP MHA Gerry Rogers takes the Oath of Office in the House of Assembly this morning. Rogers won her seat in the Oct. 11 provincial election. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Methadone patients lined up outside the Opioid Treatment Centre the day after Downtown Pharmacy closed May 7 weren’t thrilled with how it had all played out.
They expressed frustration to Telegram reporter Andrew Robinson about not receiving advance notice that the drug store’s licence would be revoked.
They felt let down by the pharmacist who had left the business and they weren’t happy about the wait to receive their dosage.
As well, some felt being in a queue outside a clinic wasn’t fair to those who didn’t want to be publicly identified as a prescription methadone user.
Downtown Pharmacy’s licence was temporarily suspended late May 6 after its pharmacist in-charge stepped down. The drug store has since reopened.
As reported in The Weekend Telegram, ensuring clients could receive methadone May 7 put considerable pressure on management and staff.
Insight into the challenges was gained from a recent access to information request.
NDP MHA Gerry Rogers thinks the pharmacy closure threw already over-burdened services and programs for a loop and into crisis.
“(I remember) speaking to some people who work in this area (and them) saying what a scramble it was, and they scrambled, they really had to work hard,” says the MHA for St. John’s Centre. “They really had to skate to respond to the needs. It was tough, and it continues to be tough.”
She says staff at the opioid centre “really were fantastic” in dealing with the situation.
According to Rogers, the drug store’s sudden closure also challenged methadone patients. She says transportation to Pleasantville as well as the dispensing hours at the clinic — 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. — were inconveniences.
“If they didn’t have cars, getting out to Pleasantville made the day very difficult for people. Also, the impact it had on people who were working because of the hours of the program. It meant maybe missing time at work because they had to get their methadone.”
Rogers says while there have been improvements to addictions services in recent years, there remains a need for more resources.
What took place when the Downtown Pharmacy closed is proof, she suggests.
Health Minister Susan Sullivan doesn’t agree.
“I think everybody responded very quickly to this situation once it was identified,” she says. “We put plans in place very quickly to bring things together to do what we ought to do, which was ensure services for clients were really being addressed out there. So considering the limited time frame to make arrangements (and), notifying clients, etcetera, I thought the execution of the plan went very smoothly.”
Sullivan is also satisfied with government’s recent investments in mental health and addictions — $29 million over the past three years.
The minister says her department learned from its response to the Downtown Pharmacy closure.
The lessons gained, or reinforced, on her list are working with stakeholders, identifying variables, delegating resources, and strong communication as well as being able to be flexible and forward thinking.
Kim Baldwin, the Eastern Health manager most prominent in the documents obtained by The Telegram, was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
However, a spokeswoman provided an emailed statement saying the health authority was “very pleased” with its handling of the Downtown Pharmacy closure.
It states that Eastern Health was committed to continue dispensing methadone to impacted clients until each had been successfully relocated.
That was done without any negative impact to the opioid centre’s regular services, the statement notes.
“Eastern Health is very grateful for its staff’s commitment and dedication during this period, and will use the experience gained from this incident as guidance, should a future incident occur.”