How ‘One-Stop’ Care Lifts New Moms from Addiction

TheTyee.ca – News – A Tyee Series: Shown to work for women in BC’s inner cities, could it expand? Part of a reader-funded series.
14 Mar 2014.     By Alexandra Samur

Editor’s note: For an introduction to this series, go here.]

Sun streams into the bright room painted in vibrant hues of green and blue. In a messy circle of soft sofas, baby strollers and rockers, six women sit watching infants crawl at their feet and toddlers play with scattered toys. Loud laughter fills the room, adding to the cheerful ambience. Looking in from the outside, it seems the typical sort of “mom meet-up” that happens in living rooms and community centres anywhere.

But this is more than just a coffee klatch. The gathering, held at Surrey’s Maxxine Wright Community Health Centre, is part of an outreach program for pregnant women and mothers with histories of drug and alcohol addiction. On weekdays over the lunch hour, women arrive to see the doctor, eat a hot meal, and meet with the mental health, infant development, income assistance, and housing support workers who comprise the 15 staff members employed here.

At one end of a couch is Julie, feeding her six-week-old son, Elliott (names have been changed). A 31-year-old student and single mother of three boys, Julie has been a regular at Maxxine Wright since her middle son, Jonas, now four, was born. Remembering her early visits, Julie describes the centre’s humble beginnings.

“Originally, it was just a little hut,” she said. “There would be 20 to 30 women crammed in this very tiny space, all wanting to be at the drop-in or see the doctor. So it was very nice that they had this big building built.”

In the eight years since it opened, in response to overwhelming demand for its services, the Maxxine Wright building has tripled in size. It’s now a 6,000 square-foot multi-level complex, complete with floors dedicated to clinic care, childcare and housing.

Julie credits the services and community at Maxxine Wright for helping her stay clean and raise Jonas: “This is the only place I know in Surrey that has all the services: the daycare, the second stage [temporary rental housing] in the back — it’s like a one-stop shop. You’ve got the doctor, the dentist, the food and the support worker — everything all in one go, everything you really need to get back on your feet.”

Twenty years ago, before programs like Maxxine Wright existed, pregnant women living with addiction would arrive at hospital emergency rooms in labour, having received no prenatal care. A social worker would usually apprehend the baby immediately following birth.

But the popularity of such multidisciplinary community health programs has grown, and the reality is much different for such mothers today.

Vancouver’s Sheway has offered these services for nearly two decades, and a similar program in Victoria, “HerWay Home,” opened this past January. No longer seen as luxuries or experiments, such programs are increasingly viewed as core and essential service offerings, the key to bringing about the best outcomes for addicted women and their babies.

Outside cities, however, programs like these simply don’t exist, meaning women living in smaller centres are forced to travel sometimes great distances to access the specialized health care they need.

‘Every door is the right door’

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