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Overdose prevention team at Surrey hospital advocates for patients who use substances

Episodic Overdose Prevention Services launched in September at Surrey Memorial Hospital
Outreach worker, Tara Jeeves, poses for a photo outside of Surrey Memorial Hospital. (Photo: Fraser Health)

Tara Jeeves understands firsthand the importance of supporting people who use substances when they are receiving medical treatment at a hospital.

The Surrey resident’s struggle with substances started at the age of 47.

“Up until then, I always had a job, I always had a home. I was a mom,” Jeeves said.

“I never was marginalized or in that kind of circumstance before and it really opened my eyes to what happens in society to these folks.”

Now three years sober, she is an outreach member of the episodic overdose prevention services (eOPS) team at Surrey Memorial Hospital. The main goal of the team is to advocate for patients who use substances and ensure they are safe.

“I do it because I’ve been there and I understand what it’s like not to be treated properly and I don’t think folks deserve to go through that,” Jeeves said.

The eOPS team was launched in September at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Two outreach workers are on 7 days a week from 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.

“The Episodic Overdose Prevention Services team at Surrey Memorial Hospital makes it easier for people who use substances to connect with supports they need, as well as referrals to short and long-term care both in the hospital and in the community,” Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions stated in a post on Fraser Health.

Jeeves said that patients can ask for a member of the eOPS team while they are being triaged.

“Many people won’t disclose their substance use due to the stigma that comes with it, so by having an advocate to help them through the system and providing a safe and supportive environment, our eOPS team is helping to keep people engaged in care so they get the health services they need,” Erin Gibson, manager of Clinical Operations, Toxic Drug Response and Priority Populations, Fraser Health, stated.

The eOPS team is also there to help bridge the communication gap between the patient and healthcare workers. They take the time to learn the patient’s history and how they can be best supported while receiving treatment at the hospital.

“I do this work because everybody has a story and people don’t understand that most of the time, addiction is a result of trauma,” Jeeves said. “And a lot of the public really wants to see folks quit using but they don’t understand that you can’t just take the drugs out of the people and throw them back on the street.”

Jeeves says her job boils down to being kind to people and treating everyone like human beings with no judgment.

“A lot of folks who use substances are afraid to come to the hospital because of how they’re going to be treated when they’re here,” Jeeves said. “They feel that withdrawal is not seen as medical distress.”

“We literally just love on everybody,” Jeeves said. “There’s been lots of times that I’ve just held people’s hands while they’re getting their IVs in,” Jeeves said.

“The team helps people address their substance use while in hospital, and also provides overdose prevention education, harm reduction supplies including Take Home Naloxone kits, as well as facilitating referrals to treatment and other mental health and substance use services,” reads a Fraser Health post.

The eOPS team is also helping to slowly break down the walls of stigma that can surround people who use substances, Jeeves said. There is still a long way to go, but she has seen healthcare workers and other patients take note of how she and her colleagues speak to the people using substances and how they respond.

“I’m not getting the same attitude or disrespect from them because they know that I’m not showing them any disrespect,” she said. “I’m just completely supportive and I meet people where they’re at, no matter what their decision is, I’m not going to judge them.”

The team also ensures patients who use substances are safe and return to the hospital after using substances. Jeeves said she has not witnessed any overdoses since she started in September.

There are a number of discrete locations outside the hospital where the team can take the patient to smoke or inhale substances. “We will take outside and do witness consumption and ensure that they come back,” she added.

The locations respect the patient’s privacy, “as well as protect them from the community and the judgment that comes along with it.” They can also take them to the overdose prevention site at Quibble Creek Sobering and Assessment Centre.

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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