The international award, which recognized the Correctional Health Services Transition, was presented Oct. 30 at the International Corrections and Prisons Association's annual general meeting and conference. It capped off seven months of complex, inter-governmental work that began with a single, unifying belief: Do more to ensure people are released from incarceration in better health than when they arrived.
"People involved with the criminal justice system are some of society's most vulnerable," said Lynn Pelletier, vice-president of PHSA's BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, which oversees Correctional Health at the 10 provincial Correctional Centres across the province. "Improving correctional care and integrating it with community-based care gives us an opportunity to change the trajectory of their lives by addressing some of the social and economic realities that brought them to us in the first place."
More than 18,000 individuals flow in and out of BC's 10 correctional centres each year. Consistent, high-quality health care and seamless care transitions are vital for these clients, given that chronic and infectious diseases are overrepresented in BC's incarcerated population. Additionally, more than 60 per cent have a diagnosed mental health disorder, substance use disorder, or both, and approximately 40% of the population is on Opioid Agonist Therapy.
Within a seven-month timeframe, the project brought together two large and complex organizations, successfully transferred health care services, and significantly improved health and mental health care for individuals in custody in B.C.
It went live on Oct. 1, 2017.
"The timeline was aggressive, but a commitment by both Ministries involved, close partner relationships, and sophisticated project management led to a seamless transition in just seven months," said Andrew MacFarlane, Provincial Executive Director of Correctional Health Services. "This work has now positioned B.C. as a national leader in correctional health reform and several correctional and health care leaders across Canada, and international jurisdictions, have approached BC Corrections and PHSA to consult on our approach."
Since completion, Correctional Health has made great strides forward to improve the lives of people who will transition back into society with connections to health services. This will improve their prospects for leading a life with better health and free from mental health and substance-use challenges.
The following is a summation of success:
- More patient encounters for primary, nursing and dental care, and lab and x-ray services.
- Significant increases to mental health and substance use treatment encounters, medication dispensing, and clients on opioid agonist therapy (OAT).
- Waiting lists for OAT treatments has been eliminated. On average, 884 incarcerated men and women per month have been on OAT since April 2018 and approximately 40 per cent of all incarcerated men and women are now on methadone or Suboxone.
- PHSA recently launched five new community transition teams across B.C. to meet peoples' needs during their vulnerable transition period after discharge from a BC corrections facility.
The Correctional Health Services Transition project aligns with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, a provincial government report that recommended the Ministry of Health explore options to better serve incarcerated people, and a 2016 recommendation by the College of Family Physicians of Canada.