Patients discharged as addictions transition unit closed to deal with COVID-19

The 18-bed transition unit at P.E.I.'s addictions treatment facility has been shut down, as part of a plan to create dedicated space for patients expected to be admitted with COVID-19.

The transition program runs for three weeks and offers counselling and group therapy sessions to recovering addicts coming out of detox. 

But Tony Doyle says last Wednesday, just a week into his program, he and 17 other patients were told they were being discharged that day. 

"It felt like I was getting thrown to the wolves, just thrown right back to the streets," said Doyle, who is now spending his days in downtown Charlottetown, and his nights at a men's shelter. 

"It was really scary to be honest. It felt like I got so far, and then basically all my work I did there was not worth anything."

Staff, services shuffled 

In a news briefing Wednesday, Health PEI's chief of nursing Marion Dowling said some mental health and addictions staff and services have been shuffled around between the Unit 9 psychiatric ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hillsborough Hospital, and Mount Herbert. 

Steve Bruce/CBC

She said it's an effort to "create that capacity for dealing with, particularly, a communicable disease like COVID-19."

Later Wednesday, in a statement to CBC, a government spokesperson added that "as part of this process, Health PEI has discharged some patients from Unit 9 at the QEH and from the transition unit at Mount Herbert."

The statement went on to say that all those patients were assessed before being discharged, and that patients "who were not stable" were taken to Hillsborough Hospital or the Prince County Hospital mental-health inpatient unit. 

Shane Hennesey/CBC

Doyle said he feels patients like him, who are stable but still in need of help with their addictions, are being ignored. 

"It just seems like they went for the first easy solution and didn't really care about recovering addicts, who are very vulnerable right now," he said. 

'I just feel so sad for them'

Ellen Taylor, a recovering addict who has lobbied government for better mental health and addictions services, agrees with Doyle. 

Steve Bruce/CBC

She said she's spoken with two other patients who were forced out of the transition program last week and have since relapsed. 

"I just feel so sad for them. I know the pain and the desperation. You feel like everybody's against you," said Taylor.

"These are the people who are going to be putting more pressure on our health care system if they're not getting the help they need."

According to Health PEI, "A plan of care and a safety plan was completed with all patients discharged in the last two weeks." It wasn't clear from the email exactly what supports those patients have been offered. 

For Doyle's part, he said he's been told he will be able to re-enter the transition program whenever it's back up and running.  

He said that can't happen soon enough. 

"It worries me, being out downtown," he said. 

"There's [the potential for] a relapse when I'm back in the areas I tried to avoid. I'm doing my best to try to stay away from it."

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.