Rising to the challenges of our times
J. Evin Jones, Executive Director and Board Co-Chairs, Katrina Jensen and Patrick McDougall
Since the time of last year’s annual report, while PAN and our member organizations have realized many successes, it has been an incredibly challenging year.
The overdose crisis is worse than ever – in the first 8 months of 2020 more people died of an illicit drug overdose than in all of 2019. This tragedy has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply – and the lack of political will to implement the changes that can save the lives of people who use drugs is maddening.
COVID-19 highlights the many other inequities that exist for the most vulnerable in our society – the homeless and underhoused, people living in poverty, many Indigenous people and other people of colour, people who use drugs. PAN members and other allied organizations working on the front lines are struggling to meet the needs in their communities.
The destructive impacts of racism and white supremacy are becoming clearer. The horrific treatment of Joyce Echaquan reflects the systemic racism that permeates Canada’s healthcare system(s). Earlier this year, the killing of George Floyd and other incidents of police violence towards Black, Indigenous, and people of colour ignited worldwide protests and for many of us an examination about racism and white privilege, where it may exist within our own organizations and our own lives.
With all of this taking place against the backdrop of an accelerating climate emergency, there has never been a more pressing time for PAN – the staff and the board – and our members to consider our role and our work – how to sustain our work in relationship to HIV, hepatitis C and harm reduction, while being responsive to these tremendous social justice challenges.
To provide access to timely and accurate COVID-19 as the pandemic continues to evolve: We have communicated regularly with our members and allies through many platforms, including targeted communications to Executive Directors (EDs), Twitter, our frequently updated COVID-19 Resources and dedicated content in the PAN weekly e-news.
To provide opportunities for PAN members to connect virtually, including the sharing of information and best practices for delivering services in the context of this pandemic: Since March, we have been convening regular meetings for EDs of PAN member and allied organizations. These virtual ZOOM calls provide a space for us to come together to share information, needs and resources – and to offer mutual support and encouragement. PAN staff hear directly from members and allies about the impacts of COVID-19 on clients and communities – we then work to “action” concerns wherever possible.
We have hosted, and continue to offer, separate Solidarity Groups for frontline staff and for EDs – that explore themes of sustainability and solidarity. The emotional and physical impacts of both COVID-19 and overdose for people on the front lines are huge. Concerns regarding burnout and retention are mounting – we will continue to monitor and advocate on these issues with funders and policy-makers.
Operationally, we have worked hard to pivot all of PAN’s operations and project delivery, providing our members with the programming and services they appreciate and rely upon, in this time physical distancing, safety protocols and ongoing uncertainty.
To liaise with public health and present the concerns of our sector, as we are able – working where it makes sense with our partners provincially and nationally: Since the pandemic began, we have been in ongoing communications with our public health partners, to determine what pandemic structures are in place, and to communicate the collective concerns of our membership. Notably, in June the PHSA announced the creation of a $700,000 COVID-19 relief fund – with a low barrier application process for PAN members, allies and partner organizations to apply for funding, particularly with regards to PPE, food security and harm reduction supplies. In September, a follow-up call was released, with funding for Indigenous-led and Indigenous serving organizations as the priority.
We would like to acknowledge the critical work of PIVOT, who have been consistent contributors at the COVID-19 tables convened by PAN – and who have been leading on many key advocacy issues connected to COVID-19 inequities and injustice, around which PAN and many of our members have rallied.
The Overdose crisis
Concerns about the overdose crisis have been a consistent theme at each and every meeting PAN has convened since COVID-19 began. We applauded the release in March of new clinical guidance, including a safer supply of drugs to mitigate risk for people who use drugs during COVID-19 and the subsequent decision to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe a safe supply. Unfortunately, “pandemic prescribing” hasn’t stemmed the tide and we are now all witnessing never before seen loss of life and harms.
We gathered the feedback we were hearing from our members and allied community-based organizations (CBOs), and in June sent a letter to Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, and Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. The letter outlined our collective concerns about pandemic prescribing; it also renewed PAN’s call for the province to revisit its position on decriminalization and to implement the recommendations of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry set out in 2019.
In August, we had a productive meeting with Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to discuss the many challenges regarding accessing to safe supply, particularly outside the Lower Mainland. The election call meant that a follow up meeting we had secured with her was cancelled, but we will pick this up after the October 24 election. Thank you to Cheryl Dowden, ED of ANKORS for her work supporting this file.
In the summer, we presented a webinar featuring harm reduction advocate Guy Felicella to provide his invaluable analysis on the safe supply guidance (available on-demand). We are thrilled to welcome him back as this year’s keynote presenter at our upcoming AGM. Just days out from the provincial election, Guy will provide a historical perspective of harm reduction in BC and a way for us to make sense of not only the current challenges but also the opportunities for change that this time affords us.
Also in the summer, we conducted a survey with PAN members regarding safe supply, asking them about challenges in accessing safe supply in their communities, as well as successes they are having with the guidance – the results of which are now available. The results of this and future surveys that speak to the perspective of CBOs, will help shape our advocacy and capacity building efforts.
Thanks to the advocacy and leadership of people who use drugs and their allies, there is huge momentum building here in BC and across Canada vis-à-vis safe supply and decriminalization. Pressure is building and PAN will continue to add our voice to the calls for action.
Other advocacy work
Sustaining the community-based response: Advocating for adequate funding for our membership and the community- based sector will always be a key focus of our work. We sit at a variety of tables with government funders and policy makers and we leverage those relationships to highlight the importance of the services provided by our members across BC. Nationally, last fall during the lead up to the federal election, PAN worked closely with the OAN in Ontario and COCQ-SIDA in Quebec to advance our issues with each of the major political parties. Post federal election, this was followed with a joint letter to the newly appointed Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu. Since May, PAN has been co-leading a national effort with our provincial and national partners to advocate for more federal funding in support of the national STBBI Action Plan. Along with the OAN, COCQ-SIDA and ACCH, we have been meeting regularly with PHAC staff to help inform the consultation process and the shape of the next funding calls for the Community Action Fund and the Harm Reduction Fund – we expect these calls will go live this month. Provincially, we represent the interests of our members at the STOP Collaborative Implementation Committee (CIC). More recently we joined the Federation of Community Social Services (FCSS) Roundtable; and we have also explored collaboration with VantagePoint – both of these organizations are leading the charge regarding overall non-profit sustainability in BC particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hepatitis C: Over the last year, we worked alongside the Pacific Hepatitis C Network (PHCN) in advocating for a better coordinated, and sufficiently resourced, provincial response to hepatitis C, and have joined in meetings with the Ministry of Health. We have deepened our partnership and collaboration with PHCN on multiple levels and continue to be grateful for their important work, as well as their key contributions on the Hepatitis C Leadership Project.
Sustaining the provincial HIV response: In February, PAN sent a letter to Minister Dix concerning aspects of the province’s 2019 World AIDS Day announcement. The letter underscores the role of CBOs in contributing to the successes the province has seen in addressing HIV and calling for greater recognition of that work; as well as the need to address HIV-related stigma and using an intersectional approach. In July, we had a very productive meeting with senior staff at the Ministry of Health and felt confident that a door was been opened for us to highlight HIV related issues with the province.
HIV Criminalization: We continue to stay apprised of legal and policy developments on this issue provincially and nationally, often in consultation with colleagues at the HIV Legal Network (formerly known as the CHLN). Over the past year we presented to the STOP CIC on several occasions which allowed us to inform and educate health authority and MOH representatives about the inappropriate use of the criminal law as well as public health orders, as well as our ongoing concerns regarding BC’s prosecutorial guidelines. We will continue to call on public health to formally endorse U=U.
See the Policy Change and Collective Action section for more.
Implementing PAN’s new Strategic Plan
This is the first year of our 5-year Strategic Plan, and we continued to fulfil our mission, guided by new principles and driven by our values and approaches – in the ways we planned, and in ways we could not have ever imagined. We encourage you to read about PAN’s programs and services in each of our key areas – that can be found in the Team reports linked below.
Given changes in our PHSA funding and a desire to evolve our provincial convening approach, last October we successfully held our first ever virtual AGM – including a keynote address from Dr. Christy Sutherland. Over the past year we expanded our webinar series PAN Presents, which connects members with Health Authority representatives, funders, ministries and other key policy influencers. Just before the COVID-19 lockdown, we brought together people from across BC for our “SoLE – Stories of Lived Experience” event. This was an important face to face opportunity that connected people with lived experiences of HIV and hepatitis C with each other, and with PAN staff and board. The feedback and input provided by presenters and participants continues to inform our work on many levels including our collective advocacy, within the Hep C Leadership Project, and as well at the PAN/PHSA Collective Impact Network (CIN). The event was greatly appreciated by participants and we look forward to convening more in the future (COVID dependent).
In line with our Strategic Plan, we formed an “Inclusion Committee” to look at how to best implement PAN’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation Principles, and to look at our own policies and practices regarding racism, and trans, gender, and other cultural competencies. This led to the board adopting a new set of PAN Principles to guide our work. We also adopted new Group Guidelines and Responsibilities to promote a culturally safe and respectful environment for all people working at or participating in PAN programming – in person or virtually.
In line with our Principles, that recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is an integral human right, we created a “Green team” to see how we can most effectively reduce our carbon footprint, and strive to be environmentally conscious. This included PAN purchasing for the first time, carbon offsets to address our carbon footprint in FY20, including support of the Great Bear Forest Carbon Project, the first carbon project in North America on traditional territory with unextinguished [Indigenous] rights and title.
Appreciation and Acknowledgements
Implementing the mission of PAN falls to the staff, and we – Katrina, Patrick and Evin – are deeply appreciative of their efforts over the past year. Sincere thanks to each of these talented and dedicated individuals for the all the many ways they continue to show up, with flexibility, creativity, commitment and compassion – particularly during these challenging times. As always, we also are grateful for the ongoing support of our funders, partners and collaborators, without which none of this work happens.
The PAN Board works hard in making sure that we fulfill our mission and does so responsibly, respectfully, and ethically. Board members play a crucial role bringing forward regional perspectives as well as the voices of lived experience of HIV, hep C and other critical insights and leadership. Huge thanks the existing board team who have helped guide our ship: Antonio, Kim, Kyla, Kari, Lucy, Wendy, Jenny and Karen. This year it has been our privilege to work alongside of Elder Lucy – thank you for all you have brought to the board table. Also, special thanks to Antonio, who has served as Treasurer for the past three years and who will be stepping down at the upcoming AGM –you will be greatly missed!
Finally, thank you to our members, who are the “inspired, strong, and effective community-based response to HIV, hepatitis C, and related health and social justice issues”. You have our deepest appreciation, admiration and support, never more so when faced with a year like the last.
For more on PAN’s advocacy and leadership, and/or the work of the board of directors please contact J. Evin Jones, Executive Director at [email protected] , Katrina Jensen, PAN Board Co-Chair at [email protected] and Patrick McDougall, PAN Board Co-Chair at [email protected]
Read the Team Reports