Lana Fox was working at the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside when she noticed her peers and colleagues were suffering.
Her role involved supporting clients with mental health and addictions issues through housing, safe injection and other programs. But before the opioid overdose epidemic made national news headlines and was declared a public health emergency, there was already an obvious change.
“I saw a definitive increase in the trauma being suffered by my peers,” Lana said. “They were attending significantly more overdoses and having increased negative outcomes. Our tenants and program participants were dying at an alarming rate.”
Wanting to help support her colleagues and community, she enrolled in the Critical Incident Stress Management Certificate (CISM) program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC). She found all of her courses were applicable to life in general, citing emergency preparedness as one area she learned new tools that will prove useful one day. The program included simulated debriefings conducted with professional actors to help students practice what they learned.
“Throughout the coursework, it was very easy to imagine how the practice could be applied to my workplace.”
It was after she had completed the first module of the CISM program that Portland Hotel Society suffered a series of critical incidents in a very short timeframe. Lana referred the society and the health authority to one of her JIBC instructors, Bruce Ramsay. With him, she co-facilitated a series of debriefings for the staff. Over subsequent months, she wrote proposals and talked about building a team to address the mental health needs of front-line staff. At the same time, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) was creating a similar, but much larger, plan than she had envisioned and when the team was formed, Lana was invited to join.
Often it is not a single incident, but compounded stress injury. Being able to help people relieve their pressure valve so they can continue their work with greater resiliency is immensely rewarding
Lana worked as a member of PHSA’s Provincial Overdose Mobile Response Team, which offers psychosocial support, education and trauma response to workers on the front line of the opioid overdose crisis.
Anyone who works in a role that is exposed to trauma, from first responders and social workers to counsellors and health care workers, could benefit from the CISM program, she said, recalling staff debriefing sessions that she assisted with.
“Throughout the series of debriefings, it is always so amazing to come to the end and see an almost tangible weight lifted from the group. Helping facilitate the understanding that they are normal people having normal reactions to abnormal circumstances is incredibly powerful and the goal is always that the work of the intervention will help speed peoples’ recovery to a normal level of functioning.”
Lana said she uses her JIBC training on a daily basis, not always in response to any particular incident, but often in speaking with front-line staff about what they are dealing with in their jobs from one day to the next.
“Often it is not a single incident, but compounded stress injury. Being able to help people relieve their pressure valve so they can continue their work with greater resiliency is immensely rewarding.”
Lana currently works with Raincity Housing as the program manager of the Vivian Transitional Housing Program for Women. The program focuses on meeting the needs of individual women who are at significant risk and who, based on their housing history, are least likely to succeed in housing, mental health or addiction programs and services.
Despite the changes in both her role and workplace, she said she continues to use the lessons learned through JIBC’s CISM program.
“Working in a leadership position at a program that houses women who are the most marginalized, have complex mental health and addictions issues and a history of not succeeding in housing means there are critical incidents on the regular.” She noted that includes a high incidence of overdose and witnessing and managing violence.
“I would argue that rarely a day goes by that I don't use my training, both in support of the tenants and the staff.”
For more information on the Critical Incident Stress Management Certificate program click here.