Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saved - one woman's story about how Vancouver General Hospital's domestic violence program saved her life - and why it shouldn't be closed

- US Army photo
'I Was Afraid He Was Going to Kill Me'

Survivor says life was saved by domestic violence counselling now being eliminated at Vancouver General.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday August 10, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"Why shut the door on this domestic violence program? It's a matter of life and death."

- "Jane Smith," survivor

The woman calling me on the phone was understandably nervous -- but her tone was urgent.

Nervous because she is a survivor of domestic violence who needs her identity protected, even eight years after leaving her husband.

Urgent because the service that she believes saved her life is being closed -- the Vancouver General Hospital's domestic violence program.

It's a closure that women's support groups and social workers are calling "outrageous, shocking and absolutely brutal," but Jane Smith is even more devastating in her analysis.

"There are probably women going to be killed -- or commit suicide -- with taking away this program," Smith [not her real name] emotionally told me. "It's such a tragedy. There are women who need the domestic violence program."

So why is it disappearing?

Last week 24 Hours newspaper exclusively reported that a July 26 Vancouver Coastal Health Authority internal memo from senior managers to VGH emergency room physicians and staff that I obtained stated the 18 year program is being "reconfigured" and existing jobs there "realigned."

And while the provincial Health Authority spins that the VGH program is actually "expanding" to include adult abuse and neglect now mandated by the new provincial Adult Guardianship Act, the sad reality is that all out-patient domestic violence counselling is being eliminated.

Director told to 'reapply'

What's more, the program's highly respected director, master of social work Kathleen MacKay, has been told she must "reapply" for a job -- which will now only be half-time on domestic violence and half-time on adult abuse -- and that her administrative staff support position has been axed.

Vancouver Coastal insists that existing VGH outpatients will be "transitioned" to community counselling services -- but none of those women's domestic violence support groups have enough resources to deal with high existing demand, let alone take on 25 new cases weekly.

That's probably why Battered Women's Support Services and Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter were not even consulted by Vancouver Coastal before the decision was made -- because the answer is so obvious.

The results are obvious too -- just ask Jane Smith, who called me after seeing the two 24 Hours stories.

"I don't know where people are going to go. I'm so blessed that I went through the program. It saved my life," she told me. "Kathleen MacKay makes you feel very safe, very secure. She knows how to talk to you, to lift you up."

'I feel like the luckiest person'

Smith didn't dwell on her own situation, but made clear it was terrible when she went to the VGH program after being abused.

"I was afraid he would kill me, get his gun and kill me," she said. "I was so frightened, like a little child. The emotional abuse was horrific."

"When someone gets violent, it's a scary place to be. When you have no one else to turn to and the person is violent and manipulative...," Smith said, her voice trailing off.

But fortunately she went to VGH.

"I feel like the luckiest person -- I've been given a second chance at life," Smith said. "I'm safe and I'm free, but there are women walking down the street who are afraid, who are intimidated."

"There are women waiting in line to get into programs," Smith says. "You feel like an ant when you first come in -- you're so beaten down. Then you're lifted up."

"Now I'm no longer alone. At last I can tell someone about this," she continued. "Kathleen helped me move on. In six months going through the program my fear was lifted."

"I was so scared before. Now I don't feel that fear that someone will kill me, follow me down the street." Smith said.

'We don't have resources': Battered Women's Support

Smith's experience makes it clear that B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon must intervene immediately and order Vancouver Coastal Health to retain this program. He cannot allow victims of domestic violence to be put at risk.

Existing support organizations for women are already under financial pressure and simply can't handle existing demand, let alone more cases.

"It's outrageous,” says Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Vancouver's Battered Women's Support Services. "No, we don't have the resources -- we have 100 women on a waitlist right now for counseling."

MacDougall said BWSS has 50 new cases of domestic violence every week and no excess capacity to take on extra work now done by the VGH program, which she called an "incredible resource."

Added Rape Relief spokesperson Daisy Kler: "It's a very crucial service for women. There are not enough of these programs and to lose one -- we're very concerned. The problem is offloading services."

No cuts at VGH, claims Vancouver Coastal Health

The B.C. Association of Social Workers echoes Jane Smith's deep worries about women losing support if the VGH program is cut.

"We're very concerned they're closing a program that sees so many people -- 20 to 25 a week -- and there's nowhere else for them to go," Linda Korbin, BCASW executive director, told me.

"Who will die or suffer significant injuries as the result of the program closure?" Korbin asked.

And New Democrat MLA Adrian Dix says Vancouver Coastal is closing a program "that meets community needs" at a time when non-profits have suffered cuts themselves.

"It's clearly the wrong decision, the wrong approach," Dix said. "This program has long been recognized and is the right way to go."

But despite the concerns, Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Anna Marie D'Angelo strongly denies the VGH program is being eliminated or the budget cut, instead saying it was "expanding" to also cover adult abuse.

"There's actually no cut in service. We increased the scope to meet the needs of patients," D'Angelo said in an interview last week.

D'Angelo noted that while the outpatient counselling will end, there will still be five full-time social workers at VGH.

"We understand that change is difficult for some people," she said.

Spending priorities?

It would be easy to simply target Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as the problem -- too easy.

The reality is that the provincial government is in charge of health care in B.C. -- politicians, not bureaucrats, are the ones responsible for delivering the service people need -- like the VGH domestic violence program.

Funding for adult abuse is important too. But when this government finds $563 million for a new roof and renovations at B.C. Place and $3.3 billion for a new Port Mann Bridge, don't tell me it won't pay a pittance to ensure vulnerable women escape violent relationships.

Instead, tell Health Minister Falcon to keep the VGH domestic violence program -- before it's too late.

Give other women like Jane Smith the chance to triumph over abuse by providing the resources they desperately need.



DPL said...

It's awfully hard to believe anything the health authorities say about anything. They know who pays their wages and controls what they have to say. The women!!! well they sure are not as important as a overpriced roof on a used sports palace in the view of the present government. Transition houses, rape relief and abuse centers have to survive on donations from the public. This province should be hanging its head in shame.

Norman C said...

The cancellation of the battered women's program is just the latest move by Gordo & Gang to remove protections for vulnerable people.

One of the first things Campbell did when he was first elected was to slash/remove funding for women's shelters across BC. It was one of those "do it right away, so they'll forget by election time" moves. It worked.

So, there's no money for battered women, yet the government has the money to change family laws, ostensibly so that people resolve things through mediation rather than court. These new laws will leave people with fewer legal options than they had before, and without any unbiased judge to rule on matters.

The result of the new family laws in BC will be more money for lawyers who will be able to string out mediation without anyone like the court ensuring they're not screwing their clients.

This change is not more humane or less confrontational at all; it is however a gold mine for lawyers, they being the one who write the laws. The people will be left with a much smaller, narrower justice system.

In other words, people will not have anyone to go to if/when anyone (spouse, lawyer) harms them. Wake up BC.

Good article Bill.

Norman C.

ps Where is BC Mary? Her site's been silent for 3 days now. PAB has been wreaking havoc with a bunch of BC blogs lately, like Harvey Oberfeld's. Maybe BC Mary's site has been hit by more PAB saboutage?

Phay said...

Just curious, have any men's programs been cancelled?

Anonymous said...

I believe that the next woman who is injured or God forbid, is killed (murdered) because of gordo's "slash and burn" of all woman's domestic violence safeguards!
To sue the Dis-honorable gordo for all they can and if need be take it to the SCofC.
I believe that the BCSC is in the hands of the Corrupt Corporations!

Anonymous said...

Bill,thank you.

Thank you for being pretty much the only writer in town who is following this story. Even though I am not a religious person, I pray every day that someone in Victorial will listen to the silent pleas of women who vitally need assistance.

For those reading, please be aware that this is not the only way the "system" fails us - women who have suffered abuse.

From the moment the police are called, the system can, and does, fail us.

When the men who beat us are released on bail, with a restraining order - and their house keys - the system fails us.

When those same men immediately go back home and try to break in, and the victim calls 911 to no avail, the system fails us.

I am this woman.
I was beaten twice, given a concussion,scratches and visible bruises... and managed to call 911 before he disconnected the phone line. My assaulter was arrested on a weekend, charged, held overnight and released on bail....wih a restraining order and his house keys... imagine that.

** story continued next comment

Anonymous said...

He immediately returned to the house, the day he was released.

I called 911, only to have the operator tell me she had no record of his bail conditions. Why? Because on weekends the courthouse and RCMP get backed up with cases and the information is not always entered into CPIC immediately.

I had to endure a nearly 25 minute 911 call, begging for help, with my children in the home, and no one came to assist me.

My oldest daughter and I held the front door shut while he tried to break in, all recorded on 911. The operator asked at one point if I thought the man who assaulted me would talk to her on the phone!!

Understand this.

He had threatened to kill me, had bruised and battered mw, and because everyone was behind on a weekend,I was left hanging for over an hour, because 911 had no record of his conditions or why he was arrested.

Nothing had been entered into CPIC,because it all takes longer on a weekend...A possibly deadly error for a woman who has just been beaten.

There were a series of failures in my case.

The assailant being released with house keys, despite a clearly written restraining order in place.

The information of his release not being passed onto me by victims services.

The information of the arrest, charges and bail conditions not being entered into CPIC.

The priority of the call of his ensuing attempted break in not being taken seriously and police not responding for over an hour.

The police making me, the victim, feel like I was a liar and a drama queen.... until they saw me in my underwear and saw the bruises and scratches he left, while taking the follow up photos for evidence.

story continued.....

Anonymous said...

Let me be clear. I am not a poor woman, nor am I a woman without education. But when the system can fail for a woman like me who knows how to access services and agencies who help victims, what the hell happens to a woman who does not know how to access these vital services??

She might die.

She might be beaten for years.

She might not want to go through the horrible feeling of having to expose her private areas to strange men for photos, even if they are police officers.

When the RCMP who responded to my 911 call, after my assaulter has tried to break in again after being released, they made me feel like he was the victim, until they saw those bruises, then they changed the way they acted and gave me advice on being safe.

I understand the RCMP get a lot of fake calls where arguments happen, someone comes home drunk etc... but that is no reason to treat every case like it is nothing.

Until law enforcement routinely treat this crime seriously, how can we expect our government to??

Thank you Bill. Thank you for everything.

Anonymous said...

One of the first things I think we need to understand about Campbell is that he does not like women. At all. Like any bully in a school yard, he likes to pick on those he assumes weakest; children first, women second. And the weaker you are, the better he likes it.

Statistics have proven that when a recession hits, bills pile up, jobs are lost, homes are lost...businesses die...the first people to pay the price for the failure of the economy are - women. Not in job losses etc., but in violence and abuse by those nearest and dearest.

This program is needed now, and will be needed even more in the near future...Campbell knows that...they all do. So I think we need to ask the entire Liberal party if they're willing to wear the blame when the first woman or child dies of domestic violence, because of Liberal stupidity and ineptitude.

Regardless of the answer...we need to remember their treatment of Women, Children, and Seniors come the next election - and ACT on it.

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