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BC Women’s launches pilot to understand community needs for people giving birth who use substances

BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre announced a new 15-community-bed pilot across the Lower Mainland and in Victoria, to help address the unique health and housing needs of people with substance use concerns who are giving birth.

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​The beds are being implemented using three distinct housing models that include stabilization, transitional housing, and Indigenous-focused care. The goal is to better understand the needs of patients and newborns once they are discharged from a hospital setting to the community.

"Each year, our Families in Recovery (FIR) program provides specialist, quality care to approximately 80-90 women and people who use substances and their infants. We are optimistic that findings from this pilot will offer us deeper insights into how we can better support pregnant women and people, and families longer-term, beyond their time spent at our hospital," said Darci Skiber, senior director of the Mental Health and Substance Use Programs + Initiatives with BCW.

BCW has partnered with three not-for-profit organizations, including Coast Mental Health, Elizabeth Fry Society, and the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homeless, to operate the housing sites using a harm reduction and trauma-informed approach.

"To ensure the best start in life for newborns and their families, pregnant people and new parents who use drugs need immediate access to high quality health-care, mental health services and housing," said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. "These new community bed pilot will help bridge a gap for perinatal patients, and lead to a better understanding of the needs of pregnant people in our communities and their children."

There is limited research in BC on the unique health and social services required by women and people with substance use concerns who are pregnant, have given birth and/or are parenting once they are discharged from the hospital. Ahead of the pilot's implementation, BCW MHSU collaborated with provincial partners to conduct an environmental scan of existing services and to complete a review of literature related to best practices. These insights informed the design and structure of the pilot.

"It's crucially important that we support the unique needs of every pregnant person, parent and their newborn," said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. "This BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre's pilot will allow hospital and community service providers to gain greater understanding of how we can support this target group to achieve better health outcomes."

 As a provincial leader in perinatal substance use care, BCW is well-positioned to evaluate the health outcomes of those who access this pilot service over the next year.

Speaking about their pilot site, Keir MacDonald, CEO of Coast Mental Health said, "Existing systems of care haven't been meeting the needs of women and people affected by substance use during their pregnancy and after giving birth. In partnership with BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre, we're providing five housing units to support perinatal women affected by substance use, and who are transitioning from acute care back into the community.  With access to stable housing and appropriate supports, we know the outcomes for the whole family will improve." 

Some of the outcomes BCW will assess include: days spent in hospital, integration and connection to the community, and the physical and mental wellbeing of the patient and their family. Evidence from this pilot will inform future planning to better integrate perinatal care between the hospital and the communities where people live.

 For further information about perinatal substance use care at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre, visit our website.

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