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Health officer urges Tofino to address alcohol problem

Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News - 3/19/2019

The medical community is urging Tofino's municipal council to tackle what they say is a serious alcohol problem on the West Coast.

"You cannot overstate the impact of alcohol on the West Coast in terms of medical conditions, social issues and accidents," said Dr. Carrie Marshall during Tofino'sFeb. 26 regular meeting.

She said the Tofino General Hospital is increasingly providing an informal space for residents to detox from alcohol, but the hospital has no formal policy around that service and nowhere to send residents once that detox is completed.

"Often, over Christmas, we get seven to eight people at a time in the hospital that we are detoxing. I don't think there's a lot of other hospitals in [Island Health's region] that provide that service. And, even if you're going to detox someone, there is nowhere to go in the community to continue on with care with that," she said.

"It just feels like it gets more intense every year. There's very little services here on the West Coast and it's very disproportionate to the concern around alcohol."

Marshall raised her concerns as part of a delegation to council headed by Central Vancouver Island's Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback who presented his annual report on Tofino's most pressing health issues and encouraged council to address the community's health concerns.

"Local governments have always been a major contributor to the well-being of the citizens that they serve. Far more so than the formal health system itself and we often forget that," Hasselback said. "So, never underestimate what your contributions may be."

He said council has an important role to play in improving their community's physical, mental and social well-being by addressing determinants, like lack of housing or employment struggles, that lead to risks.

"When we talk about those determinants, those are the things over which the health system has very little control, but for which local government may be able to establish some foundations," he said.

"Alcohol consumption remains a significant issue here…I don't think I can understate for this region—all of Alberni-Clayoquot including the West Coast—the importance of alcohol as an over-contributor to poorer health happening and the challenge I'm going to put out to you is what does an alcohol policy plan look like for this community?"

Coun. Andrea McQuade asked Hasselback for examples around what municipalities can do regarding alcohol policies.

Hasselback pointed council towards online resources available at www.bchealthycommunities.ca and cited a Nanaimo hockey tournament he hopes will change its serving practices as an example of steps local governments can take towards decreasing liquor service at public events.

"The free flow of alcohol during that hockey tournament for the participants, let alone the people attending, has been part of that culture. That's one that perhaps needs to change," he said. "I'm not going to say that alcohol shouldn't be served, but perhaps maybe not as free flowing in the same fashion as it has in the past."

Hasselback added that local governments are obligated under the Public Health Act to report any health hazards or problems in their community and can invite Hasselback to investigate any concerns they have.

"I must monitor the health of the population and report out on that and I also have to be involved in activities of local agencies, not just local government, in terms of keeping you informed about what is occurring, commenting on policies and changes that you may be undertaking that will affect the health of the population," he said.

He said council has a responsibility under the Community Charter to consider any potential health impacts of the decisions they make and bylaws they adopt.

"It comes down to that concept of good governance," he said. "Certainly health needs to be brought into that conversation. It should neither be the driver of your policy decisions, but also it should not be excluded from your policy decisions."