East Kootenay Addiction Services

As I’m constantly discovering, Fernie has Unsung Heroes hiding in every nook and cranny with surprises in the vast array of facilities, services and community offerings, many of which are unbeknown to the average Fernie resident. This month’s Unsung Heroes sheds some light on a service that I knew very little about. It’s a service that perhaps isn’t talked about, a service that is invariably misunderstood, despite being a service that is invaluable in any community, regardless of size or location. This month I met with two counsellors at Fernie’s branch of the East Kooteney Addiction Services (EKASS) to find out what they offer to a small community such as ours.

What services do EKASS offer to Fernie residents?
“EKASS provides outpatient counselling and education programs for adults and youth, including day treatment, residential treatment, home detox and methadone maintenance programs. Our philosophy is to respect the integrity of every individual and we believe in the right of each person to determine his/her own life and to choose actions that lead to his/her own physical, emotional and spiritual health.”

I soon learn that this accurately sums up EKASS’s mandate. Their focus is on ‘harm reduction’, rather than abstinence. In short, they are not in existence to preach or lecture, rather to simply explain, reason and advise. Misconception number one.

How many people work at EKASS?
“In Fernie we have one Adult Addiction Counsellor, one Youth Counsellor and one Behavioural Clinician for children and youth. Across the East Kootenays we have a total of 19.” This seemingly results in a facility with a broad range of expertise. As a non-profit society governed by a board of directors with funding being acquired through government contracts, EKASS is a close knit team, working together throughout the valley, with office space and services in Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford.

Fernie is a small, intimate community, how does this affect the nature of your jobs? An increased challenge or easier?
I love Fernie like the rest of us, but as well as its mountains, trails and snow record, it is also renowned (in my eyes) for the kind but nosey neighbour type, knowing everyone’s business. Many probably welcome this friendly attribute, but for some, this is undoubtedly a negative. “With Fernie being a small community, boundaries and discretion are extremely important. We value our client’s right to privacy and are bound to adhere to a code of ethics that ensures our client’s information is kept confidential.”

It was immediately apparent that these counsellors were in such roles for a reason – they were passionate about their jobs, understanding, articulate, well educated and above all very friendly. They created a welcoming atmosphere, which perhaps as misconception number two, I was not expecting. They were easy to talk to and keen to chat to me about services offered and how their roles affected them on a personal level. In a small community they ensure they keep a “low profile”, keeping a strong “respect for the profession and clients”. It must be hard in this town, but I wouldn’t doubt this fact for a second.

There seem to be a number of self-assessment and at home treatments on offer as well as onsite programs, how do these work?
“All of our offices offer outpatient counselling where an assessment is completed. The assessment provides the opportunity to look at all life areas, with the understanding that addiction is a complex interaction of all life areas. Once the assessment is complete the counsellor and client determine a treatment plan that is based in the client’s strengths to tackle trouble areas. This is where, if appropriate, the client will be referred to other services or services within EKASS be it home detox, residential treatment or day treatment.”

Counselling seems to have travelled a long way since the beginning in Fernie, what are the major changes that EKASS has seen?
“Our agency has seen many changes since its inception in 1978. However, program services have remained free and confidential to anyone dealing with their own or someone else's addiction or substance misuse.”

How do you suggest people best get in touch?
“Individual youth and adults, including those affected by substance misuse, can self refer.”
For adults, who generally “self-refer and are open to change”, this seems to work well. But for the younger generation, I learned that it’s not as simple as that. Often the Ministry of Children & Family development (MCFD) make referrals, or children can be referred by school, but this certainly is a more sensitive clientele. One service, developed in 1999, called Teen Empowerment and Mastery (T.E.A.M) provides a five day residential treatment program for at-risk youth, to help youths deal with “significant difficulties” in many areas of life, in a setting outside the stereotypical counselling office. In short, there is unfailing support and experience at EKASS, with a service and a listening ear for everyone.

For more information contact 250-423-4423 (1-800-644-6144), or 1-877-489-4344 in Cranbrook. Or self-refer by completing an intake form available for pick up at 802-B 2nd Avenue, in Fernie, or on their website www.ekass.com.