Requirement for supervised consumption sites to ask for personal health numbers delayed

Anna Junker 2 minute read February 2, 2022

The supervised consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre in downtown Calgary. Jim Wells / Postmedia, file

The requirement to have all supervised consumption services ask clients for personal health numbers has been delayed until April.

In an information bulletin sent out to service providers Monday, the Alberta government said the requirement to ask for personal health numbers will be delayed until April 1 in order to be in compliance with the Health Information Act.

The delay is to ensure service providers have time to become “custodians” under the act, which allows them to collect personal health information, as outlined in the Recovery-Oriented Overdose Prevention Guide.

“Without being a designated custodian or affiliate, service providers would not have the authority to collect and manage client health information, including personal health numbers,” the bulletin states.

“Due to the understanding that the only licensed service provider that is a custodian or an affiliate approved by the director is Alberta Health Services, enforcement for this requirement for other service providers will not begin until April 1.”

The delay comes on the same day as the Court of Appeal of Alberta dismissed a bid to temporarily block the province from asking for personal health numbers. The change was to take effect Monday.

The court found halting the province’s policy could disrupt its efforts in handling the overdose crisis that claimed more than 1,300 lives between January and October, 2021. While it determined irreparable harm — including death — may occur to clients who are deterred from using the sites for being asked for personal information, the extent of the harm is difficult to ascertain, and therefore does not meet the threshold to grant an injunction.

The government has stated that asking for personal health numbers is standard practice for health services, and clients will be asked for theirs upon an initial visit. However, no clients will be refused services if they do not provide their health number.

This is the third time the requirement to ask for personal health numbers has been delayed. The new rule was initially supposed to come into effect on Sept. 30, but earlier that month the province delayed the implementation to Jan. 3 to ensure compliance under the Health Information Act.

The requirement was delayed a second time during the initial emergency injunction hearing in December. Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Belzil asked the government to postpone the new rules to Jan. 31, pending his decision, which ultimately dismissed the application.


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