THUNDER BAY – Consumption and treatment services across Ontario are still waiting for funding to flow, despite receiving provincial approval in March.
The Thunder Bay facility, operated NorWest Community Health Centres at its Simpson Street building in collaboration with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care, is one of 15 sites waiting as the province finalizes funding agreements.
NorWest Community Health Centres chief executive officer Juanita Lawson said the delay has impacted the organization, but in smaller ways compared to some of the other service providers.
“We’re fortunate we have some internal resources that we can continue with the program but it has caused some concern around building that capacity,” Lawson said on Friday.
“We as an organization can’t get to full scale. We can’t scale up until we do have the resources in place. We’re currently operating with the same hours of service, where we will (have) later hours of service and going into Saturday and Sunday once we scale up the program.”
The Progressive Conservative provincial government switched from the previous overdose prevention model, which the service had operated under since its initial opening last November, to place a larger emphasis on wraparound health and social services and programming.
Hayley Chazan, press secretary for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the 15 sites that had been approved for funding are preparing to transition to the new model.
“The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is actively working with these sites to support this transition, which includes finalizing funding agreements under the new, more comprehensive model that connects patients with full wrap-around supports for treatment and rehabilitation services,” Chazan said in a written statement, adding the province has committed more than $31 million to the sites this year.
“Overall, under the (consumption and treatment services) funding program, the number of consumption booths, hours of service and estimated (consumption and treatment services) client visits increase for the 15 approved (consumption and treatment services) sites when compared to the same 15 sites operating under the old models.”
Chazan did not say when funding could be expected to flow for the services.
The program currently operates on weekdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The plan is for the service, when funded, to employ four full-time nurses, two outreach workers and two support workers.
Lawson, who did not provide specific utilization numbers, described the service as very busy and growing consistently.
“My concern is there is still a number of individuals we haven’t connected with or really somehow found a way to encourage them to come in,” Lawson said. “We hear over and over again about emergency medical services responding to people and they’re not calling and not coming into the site.”
Another addictions service that NorWest is involved in has been recognized as a success.
The Rapid Access Addiction Medicine clinics, which operate two days per week at NorWest’s Simpson Street building and two days at the Balmoral Centre facility operated by St. Joseph’s Care Group received this year’s transformative change award from the Alliance of Healthier Communities.
In its first year, the program provided services to about 2,000 unique users.
Registered nurse Christina Henry said the program is a collaboration of community partners, which allows people to have their medical needs met, addiction disorders stabilized and receive referrals for treatment and counselling services.
“Having those relationships has really changed the way we’re able to deliver care around addictions medicine,” Henry said. “People are coming in with a variety of issues so we’re able to address all of those issues in one place.”