LWDH and Changes Recovery Homes join forces to improve mental health and addictions care

The landscape of addictions treatment is set to change in Kenora following new merger.

After only receiving approval for the merger from the Ontario Health Board on March 27, Lake of the Woods District Hospital took the first steps to integrate the and Changes Recovery Homes just a few days later, on April 1, said LWDH President and CEO Ray Racette.

This is the first voluntary merger of this nature in the area, Racette explained, and it was funded by the province through Ontario Health. As of April 1, all staff from Changes have accepted their job offers from the hospital and have officially made the switchover to being under new leadership.

“That was a three-year journey to get up to this point, but a really great approval to get when it comes to mental health and addictions,” said Racette during the most recent LWDH board meeting held on April 11, the day the merger was announced to the public.

Changes is a recovery home for adults waiting for addictions treatment, or for those who need more support afterwards, and has been providing care, programming and guidance for people in the region for decades.

Under its umbrella are the Del-Art Manor for males and Clarissa Manor for females, which are now expected to work in greater conjunction with the Morningstar Detoxification Centre, which is already operated by the LWDH.

Changes programming and services won’t be interrupted by the merger, but according to the show runners, the quality should improve.

“With the transition to LWDH, the Changes Board of Directors is confident that timely access and professional recovery services will continue to be provided to clients from Northwestern Ontario here in Kenora,” said Bob Bernie, chair of the Changes board, in a media release also issued on April 11.

“An integration of Morningstar and Changes Recovery Homes doubles the capacity for mental health and addictions patients,” said Racette in the subsequent board meeting. Patients’ transition from Changes to the detox, the LWDH’s premiere withdrawal management clinic, will be “nice and smooth,” he said.

Changes has such a rich history, added Racette, so “something that we'll be planning to do is to recognize that legacy, and be able to talk about how it fits into our mental health and addictions program.”

Through the merger, Changes patients will now also have access to the supports offered by LWDH’s Indigenous Patient Relations Department and benefit from traditional healing methods.

Notably, both Ogimaawabiitong (Kenora Chiefs Advisory and Waasegiizhig Nanaandawe’iyewigamig (WNHAC) were involved with discussions about the merger.

Though bed capacity has doubled with the new setup, Racette said he has plans to potentially rework the amount of beds on location to avoid any congestion.

“We want to have all the clients in one building,” he said, “but we don't want it to be so congested that it's not going to work.”

At the April 11 board meeting, Racette also credited Denise Forsyth, the hospital's senior manager of mental health & addiction services, for connecting with staff, patients and families and helping everyone get on board with integration.

“We would like to extend a sincere message of appreciation to the staff and Changes Recovery Homes Board for their dedication and commitment to people in recovery,” said Forsyth via media release.

“We also would like to recognize the Changes clients for meaningfully engaging in the transition and service planning, and our partners at Ogimaawabiitong and WNHAC for their support throughout the integration planning.”

The merger is expected to be complete by the end of May.

Serena Austin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kenora Miner and News