Richard McWhinney speaks at a public hearing at Mission Council on Monday night. McWhinney said the hospital was a good spot for a drug treatment clinic. / Kevin Mills Photo

Drug treatment centre in Mission another step closer

Council gives third reading to zoning change that would allow clinic to run on Mission Hospital site

Mission council has granted third reading to a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow Fraser Health to run a drug treatment clinic on the grounds of the Mission Memorial Hospital.

If given fourth and final approval, clinical treatment – such as methadone and suboxone – would be prescribed by doctors at the clinic.

Council decided to approve third reading after a long public hearing that heard views from people both for and against the clinic.

Mayor Randy Hawes explained that Mission bylaws currently prohibit methadone clinics when, in fact, council only has the power to restrict them.

He said if council did not vote to change the zoning, it would likely be facing a court challenge which the district “probably won’t win.”

By moving the zoning amendment forward, council can restrict methadone clinics to institutional zoning only, rather than other locations such as the downtown core.

During the public hearing, many people voiced support for the clinic, but not the location.

“I am not in disagreement with the proposed methadone clinic. I know that it’s needed and its services are needed,” said Angel Elias, executive director for Mission Hospice.

However, she is concerned about its proximity to the hospice offices.

She told council the offices have suffered vandalism on several occasions, despite the Hospice Society adding to its security.

Elias is concerned the clinic could attract a negative clientele and put the hospice property at risk.

“I have taken $2,500 out of programs – children’s programs, adult programs and palliative support – to pay for security and damages to the hospice society. I can’t afford any more security.

“I understand that it is going to be helping individuals, and I’m not opposed to that whatsoever, but my eyes are not closed to the reality of some of the issues that are going to come with it. As much as it’s going to do good, there’s going to be some bad that’s going to be brought around the neighbourhood.”

Others did not agree.

Richard McWhinney, who called himself an addict, praised the location.

“I believe the location of the hospital is the correct location because of the closeness of the ambulance service and some of the group homes around there.”

Others, like Mission resident Bud McLeod, said the area already has issues and offered an alternative.

“The mess is beyond comprehension: it’s just needles everywhere. The attitude, the arrogance, the people – they don’t care. They don’t care about anybody that opposes them,” said McLeod.

He felt the old Smitty’s building (on Lougheed Highway close to McDonald’s) would be a better fit.

“That’s where they are now.”

One of the speakers, who did not identify himself, told council that he is an addict.

“I’m almost a year clean and I go to the Abbotsford clinic. I know that half the homeless people here, if they could make it to Abbotsford to get off the drugs, they would go.

“I am an addict, but not all addicts are criminals.”

Calvin Williams of Mission Youth House praised the idea and said he thought crime might go down by the hospital.

He noted that a lot of the crime happens because the youth commit offences to get their drugs.

“If they are on a treatment plan for suboxone or methadone, they don’t have that need anymore.”

He praised the value of addicts being able to see a doctor on a regular basis to help them get off “this vicious cycle.”

Local pharmacist Johnathan Huang told council having a clinic doesn’t necessarily mean people will linger around the clinic and cause problems.

“Most of the patients will get their prescriptions, which is a paper, and they’ll just take it to the pharmacies.”

Mission physician Johan Wouterloot agreed with Huang, adding that virtually every pharmacy in Mission dispenses methadone, except the one by the hospital.

“So those people that feel that there are gong to be a lot of people hanging around the pharmacy, I can reassure them.”

If the zoning receives final approval, the proposed clinic would be staffed by two physicians, a health care worker and administrative support; would operate three half days per week; and could see approximately 20 to 25 clients per week.

Clients would receive a prescription and be required to fill it at a pharmacy. The clients would be inducted on methadone or suboxone in the clinic with the support of the physicians and staff on site.