PENTICTON - As a Penticton family mourns the death of a daughter and sister, they are pointing out the mental healthcare system's inability to deliver treatment effectively.
The family of Danny and Tricia Highley struggle to come to grips with the death of their 18-year-old daughter Chloe from an accidental heroin overdose on April 26.
According to the Highley family, their struggles to get Chloe the help she needed reveal a flaw in the system — an inability to get treatment in crisis situations which don’t meet the health authority criteria.
Chloe’s father, Danny Highley, hopes some good may come of Chloe's death, if telling her story can prevent another family from going through what his has endured.
HIghley, who works as an addictian clinician, says Chloe’s mental health and drug issues began suddenly, and escalated quickly. In January her anxiety suddenly began to escalate and she became sad and depressed.
"She was the classic case of a self medicating individual, namely anxious and depressed," he says.
Most attempts the Highleys made to seek professional help and intervention were met with frustration and bureaucratic stonewalling, he says.
Danny Highley says even before his own daughter’s issues, he noted problems getting timely treatment for those suffering from mental illness in his own practice.
“Sometimes it would take me four months to get someone into treatment. At Portage, for example, it wasn’t like you could call them up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this kid and I want them to come in.' You had to go through this bizarre screening committee Interior Health set up... it wouldn’t have been a great option for us."
Portage BC’s The Crossing in Keremeos is a youth addiction treatment facility, which closed its doors earlier this year.
The problem the Highley's ran into was Chloe's primary issue wasn't addiction. In fact, she wouldn't meet Interior Health's criteria for addiciton.
Her father says she was going three or four days without taking any drug, saying it was mainly just on the weekend when she would go to a friend's place or her sister's apartment.
"There were a bunch of creeps hanging around there and that’s the other issue. There were people out of our control we didn’t know she was seeing."
Highley says there were opportunities along the way for Chloe to get the help she needed, but the bureaucracy failed them.
Her decline wasn't gradual. He says they family had a great Christmas but by the end of January they were in a full blown crisis.
He says the critical point was when a doctor in Penticton recognized the seriousness of her mental illness and admitted her to Penticton Regional Hospital where Chloe was stabilized.
Then a planned transfer to Sick Childrens' Hospital in Vancouver was cancelled.
Highley said the Friday before Chloe died there was supposed to be a conference call which was put off because health officials wanted a “concurrent” disorder person to attend.
“A concurrent disorder just means someone with an addiction and a mental health issue. I tried to explain to them, ‘Listen, she barely has an addiction, she doesn’t go through withdrawals, and they said, well we need someone," he says. "It’s just a joke, it’s just a bad joke. Because we wouldn’t have learned anything new from having that concurrent person.”
“What we encountered is just unbelievable."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.