Information sharing crucial
After cancelling a program that distributed ‘safer crack kits’ three years ago due to escalating public opposition, the Vancouver Island Health Authority claimed it had learned a lesson regarding sharing information with the public.
It now appears that is not true.
In 2007, that public opposition was largely the result of poor communication – in truth, a complete lack thereof – from VIHA, which failed to inform either city council or the people of Nanaimo what it was doing.
Three years later, as the health authority readies for a summer rollout of an Island-wide ‘harm reduction strategy’, which includes the same safer crack kits, it again has no plans to share information with the general public.
To its credit, VIHA has a meeting scheduled with city council. But it should not be left to council to share details about specific health initiatives with citizens. That information needs to come from the most knowledgeable sources, which are the health-care experts.
The health authority says it doesn’t need to go through a public process regarding its strategy. Perhaps that’s true by the letter of the law, but the experience of 2007 indicates otherwise.
VIHA does need to tell the public what it’s doing and why.
It needs to tell people that harm reduction strategies are positive initiatives.
They improve the safety and health of people living risky lifestyles or fighting addiction. But they are also beneficial for neighbourhoods, as experiences in other communities have proven.
Sharing the right information with residents is an opportunity to foster support.
By not doing so, VIHA risks yet another backlash and further opposition to a program that really is good for everyone.