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Lack of funding to sink B.C.’s only FASD clinic in Vernon

“If we close, patients with FASD will be lost and will be hard or impossible to recreate.”
B.C.’s only FASD clinic is located in The People Place in Vernon. (Bowen Assman- Morning Star Photo)

The only clinic for Fetal Alcohol Symptom Disorder (FASD) in B.C. is on its last legs, and in a struggle to stay open.

The FASD Okanagan Valley Assessment and Support Society (located inside People Place in Vernon) is the only FASD adult assessment and diagnostic clinic in the province.

The clinic will be closing its doors by the end of August, due to a lack of sustainable core funding.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,” said Candice Burnett, the interim executive director of the clinic. “From the provincial government, we’ve received smaller grants from gaming and community safety but none that would carry us in any substantial way for operations.”

The clinic has the only FASD expert medical assessor in B.C, and was opened back in 2017, which was, at the time, the second such clinic in the province.

“If we close, physicians, psychology, occupational therapy, and support staff expertise in the diagnosis and supportive management for adult patients with FASD will be lost and will be hard or impossible to recreate.”

Burnett is currently the only paid, full-time employee of the clinic, as they have been running off of volunteers.

“Our clinical coordinator is a practicum student and we got some funding for summer students, but all of those end in two weeks.”

FASD is the “hidden disability that everyone sees,” according to Burnett, as less than 10 per cent of those affected have visual signs of the disorder.

“We’re dealing with people with FASD every day but we don’t know as it is hidden. There’s very few people who have the physical features that indicate FASD.”

It’s a lifelong disability that affects the brain and body of people exposed to alcohol in the womb, impacting approximately four per cent of Canadians.

The last governmental action plan for FASD was put out back in 2008, and has since expired since 2018.

“That’s been five years with no action on the leading developmental disability in Canada,” Burnett said. “The challenge is there is a significant amount of funding for children, but this is a lifelong disability.

“What happens when an adult turns 20, and they need support? There is none.”

According to CanFASD, Canada’s national FASD research network, Alberta has 16 clinics to support 174,800 people with FASD. B.C.’s singular clinic is to support more than 202,000 people with FASD.

“B.C. has one of the highest prevalence rates of FASD in Canada,” said Burnett. “Yet one of the lowest rates of support for diagnosis and assessment.”

Currently, Burnett is working to contact local dignitaries for help in crafting a new action plan, or finding a new funder who can reliably sign onto sustainable core funding.

“So far, I have received no response back from the mayor, or the councillors here in Vernon.”

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In an email to The Morning Star, the ministry of health said it has recently received correspondence from the FASD Okanagan Valley Assessment and Support Society and is presently considering their request for funding.

“The province acknowledges non-profits may need a helping hand in these challenging times, which is why it offers a variety of funding supports like the Non-Profit Resiliency Fund and others,” said the health ministry. “The province provides people with FASD a range of supports and services, such as through Community Living British Columbia and the Provincial Health Services Authority.”

Other public sector entities may also provide supports and services to people living with FASD, said the ministry, depending on their unique physical and mental health needs.

“Further, the province supports the work of the Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD), through the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership,” said the ministry. “This partnership advances the development and promotion of an inter-jurisdictional approach to prevention, intervention, care and support of individuals who are affected by FASD.

B.C. is home to more than 29,000 non-profits, which employ more than 86,000 people and contributes nearly $76 billion to provincial economy.

This story was updated Friday, July 21, at 4:45 p.m. with comment from the Ministry of Health.

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Bowen Assman

About the Author: Bowen Assman

I joined The Morning Star team in January 2023 as a reporter. Before that, I spent 10 months covering sports in Kelowna.
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