Three clinics for addiction and mental health services are moving out of downtown Dartmouth this year, and advocates worry it will make it harder for people to access the help they need.
Connections Dartmouth on Portland Street, Belmont House on Alderney Drive and a clinic on Wyse Road are moving into a new building in the Dartmouth suburb of Portland Hills, which is about six kilometres from downtown.
Matthew Bonn said that's too far, especially for people who don't have vehicles or bus passes.
"Why do we need to force people to continue to travel?" he told CBC's Information Morning on Monday. "… By moving locations, I guarantee you're going to lose more people than you're going to gain."
Bonn is a program co-ordinator with the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs. He is a drug user himself.
The new centralized space in Portland Hills is still being built and is expected to open as early as this spring.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it's been eyeing a move for years, in part because Connections Dartmouth isn't accessible and the building isn't in good condition.
But Bonn said patients should have been consulted before the decision was made.
"People get lost to care, lost to followup," he said. "They lose that connection that they were building with the clinic or with the people in the clinic and they sometimes never get [it] back."
He worries some people who live in the downtown core won't venture out to the suburbs to seek help.
"I just couldn't even imagine what … some of the people I see down on Alderney, what they're going to do … especially with COVID as well," he said. "Everything is different, and it just didn't seem like the right time for me to move."
Stigma limits choice of new location, says NSHA
The Wyse Road and Belmont House locations opened before the NSHA integrated mental health and addiction services in the province.
Rachel Boehm, the director of mental health and addictions for NSHA's central zone, said it made sense for patients to be able to access addiction services from Wyse Road and mental health services from Belmont House under one roof.
Boehm said the health authority had been searching for a new home for Connections Dartmouth for a while, but finding one was a challenge.
When NSHA sent out a request for proposals to lease a new space, it got just one response, she said.
"There's some stigma around leasing to mental health and addictions, and it limits our choice, really when we're looking for new locations," she said.
The three clinics will remain open until the new building is ready, she said.
Outreach services will continue
Boehm said she understands the concerns about the new location given "even six kilometres can be a barrier for some people."
"We've been talking to them and trying to identify … if people are going to have barriers to treatment," she said. "We do have social workers on our team as well so they can help people access, for instance, transportation support if they need bus passes."
Boehm said staff at Connections Dartmouth will continue to visit people who can't come into the clinic.
She also pointed to the fact that the new Portland Hills location is on a bus route and near a transit hub, although Bonn doesn't believe that's enough to get people to travel further from home.
Where to go for help
In addition to in-person services, the Nova Scotia Health Authority launched online mental health services earlier this year.
People who are looking for support are encouraged to call their local clinic, the Mental Health and Addictions intake line at 1-855-922-1122 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays or the crisis line.
The province's toll-free Mental Health Crisis Line is 1-888-429-8167 and available 24 hours, seven days a week. People can also contact the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 anytime of day.
If you're experiencing an emergency, call 911.
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