News of a young man’s long-unnoticed overdose death in a Surrey recovery house that’s both registered with the province and licensed with the city has “got my attention,” says the minister of social development and poverty reduction.
Minister Shane Simpson – whose ministry provides per diem funding for such facilities – told Peace Arch News Friday that he is “pretty certain there will be an investigation” into the death of 21-year-old Zachary Plett.
Plett was found face-down in bed at around 4 p.m. Dec. 15, in a recovery house located just west of Queen Elizabeth Secondary.
The coroner told his mom, South Surrey resident Maggie Plett, that he’d died sometime between 9 a.m. and noon, of a fentanyl overdose.
Noting he wasn’t specifically aware of Plett’s death, Simpson said he’ll “be interested to understand better what happened here.”
In a story published by PAN online May 29 and in print May 31, Plett details conditions she witnessed at the house when she went to retrieve her son’s belongings.
“I wouldn’t let a dead animal rot in that place,” she told PAN.
“There was mould on his bed sheets. I’ve never seen anything like this. The roommate was already wearing a pair of his shoes.”
She said she wants to know why, in a facility that’s purporting to be helping people recover from addiction, no one thought to check on Zach; where he was, or if he was OK. And if they did, why no one recognized that he needed help.
Friday, Simpson described oversight of such operations as “really important,” and that Plett’s death should have triggered some sort of review; potentially, by the coroner, the ministry of health and others.
“Anytime that you have a tragedy like this it will trigger a review,” he said.
“I’ll be inquiring to determine what the review was. I’ve got to believe a review was done.”
Maggie Plett said Monday that many women with similar stories have reached out to her since Zach’s story was told last week.
While she has been overwhelmed by the response to media coverage, Plett said she does not regret going public. Assigning blame was not her intention, she added.
“My point was, just because you’re an addict doesn’t mean you have to live like a wild animal,” she said.
“I’m no better than my son. We’re all human, we all deserve at least cleanliness and some sort of dignity.”
Plett said she’s been told that Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy “wants to reach out to me,” and she’s hopeful that connection will happen sooner rather than later.
“I’d like to hear from her,” she said, adding she would welcome others with similar stories joining her if a meeting is arranged.
Darcy was not available to comment by PAN’s press deadline Monday afternoon, however, she told Global News last week that her ministry is “finalizing regulation and enforcement for recovery homes.”
Those regulations will be in place “by the end of the year,” Darcy said.
City of Surrey bylaw services manager Kim Marosevich confirmed Monday that the city now has one open investigation involving the home where Plett died.
As well, there are two other investigations involving two of four other locations operating under the same name, Marosevich said.
The city primarily deals with issues surrounding external concerns, such as unsightly property and noise.
Plett’s story has also spurred response from operators of other Surrey recovery homes, who say it is not only tragic for Zach, his family, friends and the community, “but also for those of us in the recovery industry providing ethical, healthy and safe services.”
“I would hope that your paper now follows up this tragic story with 20 column inches about the good news recovery stories in our community,” Susan Sanderson, executive director of The Realistic Success Recovery Society, said by email Sunday.
“The stories of young men being trained in a trade; learning to be responsible parents and learning how to live a clean and sober life against all odds.
“The full bright light should be shone on those organizations doing harm, but equally and just as important the full bright light should be shone on those organizations producing healthy, productive results for their clients, their families and our communities.”
Sanderson noted challenges for operators include the per diem rate – $30.90 per client – paid to regulated homes by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. It falls far short of the actual cost of the services recovery clients need, she said, putting that figure at $40-$50 per day.
The current Assisted Living Registry (ALR) regulations are also problematic, Sanderson said, noting the revisions pending as a result of the Community Care and Assisted Living Amendment Act (Bill 16) are “intended to improve the quality of services to clients.”