Foundry Kelowna started with a simple but previously untested premise—to provide a single access point to mental health and other health care services for youth, young adults and their families.
Kelowna was chosen as one of five Foundry pilot project sites launched across the province initially, with the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association as the lead agency applicant.
Seed money provided by the provincial ministries of health and children and family development along with five individual foundations.
The idea was to create a province-wide network of integrated health and social services centre for youth ages 12 to 24. With the first five now up and running, the province has already committed to expand the initiative to seven other communities in the year ahead, one of those sites being Penticton.
Shelagh Turner, executive director of the CMHA branch in Kelowna, gave a presentation to the Interior Health board Tuesday about what Foundry Kelowna has experienced since opening its doors last September.
She said Foundry started out with $600,000 in capital funding assistance and a three-year contract for an annual operational grant of $500,000.
Turner said the cost to redevelop the former IH administrative building on Kirschner Road into Foundry Kelowna’s new home exceeded their seed money, as did the operational expenses.
The province has added $200,000 to provide more clinical support including a nurse practitioner, while other initial shortfalls were overcome by the Not Alone campaign waged by the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation, which raised $2.5 million in less than seven months.
“The community got behind the vision and responded unbelievably to the fundraising campaign,” Turner noted.
Turner said for CMHA to bring all the various partner social and medical services agencies, 25 in total, under one umbrella initially posed a major challenge, a different way of delivering health care but one that was widely embraced as long overdue.
“The idea was not create more resources. It was to provide better access for people to use the resources that already exist in our community. To eliminate the difficulty sometimes people face in navigating the system to find the help they need,” Turner said.
“We’ve all talked about this before, of the need to get out of our service silos and make our services more readily accessible to people…what was unique for me about this experience was how all our partner organizations stepped up and said yes we need this, so what can we do to help rather than looking at what is in it for me. I had never experienced anything like that before.”
Mike Gawliuk, CMHA director of service delivery and program innovation, told the IH board that more than 1,000 young people have come to Foundry Kelowna looking for help, leading to more than 3,000 service care appointments.
Equally important, said Gawliuk, was that about 65 per cent of those first-time visitors came with their parents or a caregiver, which has led Foundry Kelowna to build up parent support services as well.
For visitor demographics, Gawliuk said the breakdown between females and male visitors is 52 to 45 per cent, while the age group division is 46 per cent 19-24, 31 per cent 16-18 and 23 per cent 12-15.
“What has surprised us is the relatively equal balance between males and females. We had thought starting out that ratio would lean far more towards females,” Gawliuk said.
The leading factors for Foundry Kelowna clients seeking help were for mental health issues at 30 per cent, walk-in counselling 21 per cent, physical health 18 per cent and substance use 11 per cent.
Moving forward, a major goal for Foundry Kelowna will be to establish a mobile service that would provide better access for health care services for West Kelowna and Lake Country residents.
Based on a successful similar program in Ontario, the mobile service would utilize access to primary health care, peer support, a social worker and telehealth services.
“We have a gaming grant to start the program. We are just at the point of developing how it would work,” Turner said.
Gawliuk related the effectiveness of Foundry Kelowna with the story of one person who walked through their doors this past year looking for help.
Gawliuk said the individual had just move from the Lower Mainland to Kelowna, and was dealing with historic drug addiction and major anxiety issues.
“He was living on his own in Kelowna and decided to go off his meds. That started a process where he lost his job, couldn’t pay his rent and was on the verge of becoming homeless,” Gawliuk recounted.
“Fortunately, he walked through our doors and become a prime example of how Foundry can help people in his situation.”
A physician was able to refill his prescription, a housing support worker was able to arrange for a rental supplement to help pay his rent and an Okanagan Y employment services provider was able to register him in a program that helps people find a job—all services directly accessible at Foundry Kelowna.
“He was able to walk through our doors and access various services and get a number of his personal needs met within one place in a timely manner,” Gawliuk said.
IH board chair Doug Cochrane said the example of access to treatment forged by Foundry Kelowna’s concept is one that can be a model for other health care services to look at in the future.
“I thank you for the work you are doing and I hope that the force will continue to be with you,” Cochrane said.
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