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Washroom sensor trial underway on Vancouver Island to reduce drug poisonings

Sensors in multiple test facilities monitor movement and how long a person has occupied the washroom

A B.C. health authority hopes a small motion detection sensor placed in public washrooms will help save lives by monitoring for toxic drug poisonings.

On Wednesday (March 15), Island Health demonstrated the technology at the Comox Valley Nursing Centre in Courtenay as part of a trial in a group of washrooms identified high-risk spaces for drug poisonings.

The sensors monitor movement and how long a person has occupied the washroom and will issue an alert to staff if there is no motion for more than 105 seconds, explained Evan Humphrey, manager of primary care with Island Health in the Comox Valley.

“So if anyone is moving in any way in that space, it will not activate. However, if there is stillness longer than 105 seconds, it will push an alert to a cell phone, which will sound an alert to have staff check on the wellness of the person.”

Humphrey added the sensors have supported psychological safety and wellness in the time of the toxic drug supply with frequent overdoses impacting the community. The trial has been a positive one so far for the centre, with staff knocking on the door and identifying themselves, and letting the individual know they will be checking in shortly.

The trial began in October 2022 at the nursing centre, as well as a mental health and substance services site in the Comox Valley area. It is also scheduled to begin in March at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and will run for a minimum of three months.

North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns explained the Comox Valley was chosen as a pilot project due to readiness and support within the community.

“(The project) is just another piece of a larger puzzle. Every intervention to help support people will make a difference in the whole picture - it’s not meant to be the solution. We know things are happening in bathrooms; let’s make it as safe as possible for people.”

Enns noted public bathrooms need to be kept open to allow access for basic needs and added it is a reflection of what criminalization has done for individuals to seek privacy for use instead of other services or access to care.

The Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation helped to support the pilot project in Courtneay and worked closely with Island Health. Executive Director Jessica Aldred said the foundation provided financial support as a way of enhancing and improving care for people within the Comox Valley community.



photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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