Espanola and Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation are the latest recipients of new bed-based addictions supports in Northern Ontario. Last Tuesday, March 22, Ontario’s Association Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Michael Tibollo, announced the $1.2 million investment that will provide access to 10 new treatment beds.
“For almost two years, families, businesses and communities across Ontario have faced many challenges and unpredictable situations, unlike anything we’d seen before,” Associate Minister Tibollo said. “The pandemic has truly tested our collective resilience and we know it has only led to new or complex challenges for those living with mental health or addictions challenges.”
The number of deaths attributed to opioids has more than doubled during the pandemic, he pointed out. “We know that 116 First Nations people have lost their lives due to opioids in the first year of the pandemic, an increase of 132 percent compared to 70 percent among non-Indigenous Ontarians. There’s been a growing need for high quality and culturally sensitive addictions care across the province, particularly in rural, Northern and Indigenous communities.”
The funding comes from the province’s new Addictions Recovery Fund (ARF) and will help hundreds of Ontarians in Espanola and the surrounding region access specialized addictions treatment, said Associate Minister Tibollo. “This means those struggling with addictions challenges in Espanola and the surrounding region will have access to one new withdrawal services bed (that’s also known as a detox bed) and one new supportive treatment bed at Espanola Regional Hospital and Healthcare Centre, and eight new addiction treatment beds located at Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation. Services here will be Indigenous-led and will provide culturally sensitive services for Indigenous clients.”
“We are extremely grateful for Minister Tibollo’s support and our government’s commitment to the health and well-being of our rural communities,” said Jane Battistelli, chief operating officer for the Espanola Regional Hospital and Health Centre. “This investment is a huge first step in building local capacity for dedicated addictions beds in the acute care system. It will allow us to develop the skills, the competency of our clinical team, provide evidence-based, high quality medical management for those withdrawing from substance use. The opportunity to further partner with Sagamok to create culturally safe programming and strengthen care pathways is essential to creating a more connected and comprehensive care continuum for patients and communities we serve.”
Sagamok Anishnawbek Gimaa Alan Ozawanimke said, “This is truly a significant day for us here in Sagamok.”
Sagamok will be converting Ritchie Falls Resort into a place that supports individuals and families affected by substance use. “With it comes a hopefully grounded model of care that comes from our community and mindfully addresses the root cause of substance use by people in our community.”
It is truly a community model where individuals and families came together to share experiences with substance use and had conversations about how to support those in the community who are struggling. “Together, we came up with a plan and with it, we developed a family treatment model that is suitable for our community members. While the family treatment centre program model will be informed by the needs of the people of the community of Sagamok, acceptance into the centre’s programs will be inclusive of Sagamok Anishnawbek community members as well as others from other communities, the community at large for whom the program may benefit,” said Gimaa Ozawanimke.
The funding is part of a $90 million over three-year investment (through the ARF), which is supporting almost 400 new addiction treatment beds across the province and helping to stabilize and provide care for approximately 7,000 clients per year, the associate minister said. There have been 164 new addictions treatment beds funded across Northern Ontario since the ARF was announced on February 11.
There have been 15 beds announced in Timmins, 34 in Thunder Bay, 37 in Sioux Lookout, 15 in Sudbury and 53 new beds in North Bay. “We basically looked at where the hot spots were around the province and tried to at least create a baseline of bed-based treatment,” he added. Bed-based treatment includes everything from withdrawal management to treatment to supportive beds. The intention is to build continuums of care close to home.
This means “building a connected, client-centred and fully integrated mental health system that works for all Ontarians, whenever and wherever they need support,” Associate Minister Tibollo said. “We’re also investing in additional community supports, including day and evening intensive treatment, mild to moderate intensive treatment and aftercare programs.”
“If someone has to travel from Sioux Lookout (or Manitoulin) to Toronto to get support, chances are it’s going to fail because that person does not have the wraparound care and support he or she needs when they get back to their community,” he noted. “We’ve been doing that over and over thinking that somehow the situation would improve and the situation has not only been exacerbated because of COVID-19 but because of lack of investments in the first place.”
These investments are geared to ensure that people are getting the right supports they need, delivered in a way that is going to be most effective for them based on their culture and their needs, he said. The ministry will be measuring everything they’re doing “which is something that’s quite novel in mental health and addictions.” Measuring outcomes will allow the ministry to know what does and doesn’t work and whether they need to pivot. “With the base being established, we are transforming mental health and addictions.”
There’s another investment for additional treatment beds coming soon to Manitoulin Island, in addition to mobile health unit (that is expected to launch in April). “We’re providing those supports because people sometimes don’t have the ability to travel,” he said. “We’re trying to build the investments on a regional basis to provide the supports. We now have a game plan that’s going to be based on best practices and will be evidence-based.”
“It’s long overdue,” he said, pointing out there’s never been a focus on building a continuum of care that has treatment as its basis. “We’re always talking about harm reduction. We always talk about things we can do as interim steps, but if we don’t have that foundation those interim steps will never resolve the problem.”
He anticipates that these services will go a long way to ensuring successful treatment. “When a person comes to detox six time in a year, we’ve failed somewhere,” he said. “We need to identify what else we need to do so that person goes to detox once, and then give them that treatment.
He also points to necessary investments in the social determinants of health: in housing, including supports for Indigenous communities and in transitional housing supports for individuals coming out of the justice system and ensuring people can find employment. “If you address these issues, there’s less of a fallback on having to cope with problems by using substances,” he explained. “We’re starting down the right path and it is transformational. Doing it this way, by region, gives us the opportunity to understand what the real needs of the region are. What do I know about the North? It has to be the people who live in the region informing us and we’re supporting them and getting it right. Because if it’s not right, individuals are going to continue to suffer and we’ve seen that for the last 15 years.”
Also announced was funding through the ARF to support a brand new, Indigenous-led youth wellness hub that will provide culturally sensitive supports to Indigenous youth ages 12 to 24. The “first of it’s kind in Ontario” project will be led by Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation in partnership with Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, led by their chief executive officer, Dr. Joanna Henderson.
Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor