Laura Stone,Queen's Park Reporter July 6 2020
Betty-Lou Kristy, the Ontario government's new chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council, in her home on June 30, 2020. (Photos-Kate Dockeray/The Globe and Mail)
In the basement of her home in Georgetown, Ont., Betty-Lou Kristy has a created a collage to honour the memory of her son. She calls it her grieving wall.
It has been 19 years since her son, Peter Beattie Kristy, died of an opioid overdose in a hospital psychiatric ward. Even two decades later, Ms. Kristy – who herself has struggled with mental health issues and addiction – says the wall helps her work out the trauma left by his loss.
“He was my whole reason for living,” Ms. Kristy said. “I was really trying so hard to get Pete the help he needed … and couldn’t.”
Since his death, Ms. Kristy, 64, has dedicated her life to helping others in similar situations. Now, she plans to draw on her experiences as the new chair of Ontario’s patient and family advisory council. Recently appointed to a three-year term, Ms. Kristy and the other council members, yet to be named, will provide advice to Health Minister Christine Elliott about a myriad of issues that centre on improving patient care in the province.
Ms. Kristy experienced frustration as a parent when dealing with her son’s addiction. Little was known about opioids at the time, and she said her concerns were not adequately addressed by the health care system, including on the day he died.
“We were stigmatized and dismissed with the label of addiction. Our voices were not heard as mother and child.”
Her son was struggling with serious mental health issues by age 20, she said. He was prescribed OxyContin for stomach problems and became addicted. In 2001, he was admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt. It was there where her son was given OxyContin by a roommate, Ms. Kristy said; he overdosed two days before Christmas, after he lay dying for six hours. He was 25.
“He was the absolute love of my life.”
Ms. Kristy, pictured here in her home, says she has been surrounded by addiction since she was a child growing up in Mississauga, Ont.
Ms. Kristy has been surrounded by addiction since childhood. She grew up in Mississauga, Ont., to parents who also struggled with alcoholism and mental health problems, and describes her upbringing as chaotic and violent. She became caught up in the youth criminal justice system, lived in group homes, and eventually fell into her own addiction to drugs and alcohol.
It took four stints in rehab and a 20-year-battle to reach what Ms. Kristy calls her “substance-free wellness.” Eventually she found her way to her current job as director of the Centre for Innovation in Peer Support, Support and Housing in Halton, west of Toronto. She has forgone the Ministry’s per diem that comes with the council chair, and will keep her job.
Ms. Kristy is a proponent of peer support in overcoming addiction. She believes prevention, awareness and early intervention are crucial, as well as resources to help empower parents.
“There is still not a lot of strengthening of the family unit and helping parents cope when their children are struggling.”
Ms. Kristy says she is driven by a belief in the ability of people to tap into their inner resilience.
She has previously spoken out about the need to increase the availability of Naloxone, used to reverse opioid overdoses, which she said could have saved her son. It is now more widely available.
She also supports supervised consumption sites, which the Ontario government has capped at 21 locations across the province.
“We need to be able to keep people from harm, and we need to be able to keep people alive, so I think there’s lots of evidence that shows that these sites do exactly that,” she said, adding they should also be able to assist people who are ready in getting treatment.
Mostly, she believes in the “ability of the human spirit” to tap into people’s inner resilience.
“The strength of my experience comes from being an addict and an alcoholic,” she said.
“The fact that somebody like me can take that, and the loss of her child ... is quite astounding to me. It actually speaks volumes.”
Here is the link to the Ministry announcement:
Ontario Appoints New Chair for the Minister's Patient and Family Advisory Council
TORONTO — Today, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, announced the appointment of Betty-Lou Kristy as the new Chair of the Minister's Patient and Family Advisory Council. In this role, Ms. Kristy will help the government's ongoing work to engage with patients, families and caregivers and deliver patient-centred care.
"Having had the pleasure of meeting Betty-Lou, I'm truly inspired by her strength, resilience and bravery, both as a patient, family member and as a fierce advocate," said Elliott. "It's not often someone's experiences and their life's story shine a spotlight on gaps in care and how we can work together to build a better, more inclusive health system. Every single Ontarian will benefit immensely from Betty-Lou agreeing to take on this role."
The Patient and Family Advisory Council provides advice to the Minister of Health on key health care priorities that have an impact on patient experience and patient care. The inaugural council made significant contributions to patient care in Ontario, including developing a Patient Declaration of Values and provided strategic advice on digital health, home and community care, mental health and addictions, integrated and coordinated care and primary care.
"I can't help but be amazed that someone like myself who has fought so hard for her recovery from trauma, mental health and addiction and the staggering loss of her beautiful son to opioid overdose, has been named as Chair of the Minister's Patient and Family Advisory Council," said Ms. Kristy. "I think my appointment speaks volumes about this government's commitment to mental health and addiction. It feels like a huge blending of lived and family experience, years of advocacy, learning what the system needs and working hard to be part of the solutions. Needless to say, I can't help but feel health care is getting healthier, barriers are coming down and that gives me hope."
Ms. Kristy's appointment as Chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council will begin in June 2020.
.................................I am posting this here because EENet and EENet Connect, PSSP & CAMH have been one of my most reliable resource(s) that have helped to empower me over a decade of advocacy. They always recognized me and saw me for my true value (even when most over the years only saw me as an "addict"). They continually strived to meet my needs as a systems advocate and then in my role as Director of the Centre for Innovation in Peer Support (Support & Housing-Halton). Because of their willingness to explore and ability to vision what I was visioning, they are a HUGE part of why I have this role! A huge amount of people on this forum have also been part of my journey.
I also want to say that this is for all of us who have been harmed; who have struggled to find their wellness because what we needed was not there for us. This is to all of us who were impacted by stigma, discrimination and bias. To all of us who have lost our children, lost loved ones and community members to suicide or accidental overdose.
TOGETHER we can and will continue to be part of the solution! Team work, hard work, tenacity, grit & humility. Thank you to all of you.