THUNDER BAY — Stakeholders in the mental health and addictions treatment field in Thunder Bay hope this week's announcement of provincial funding for more beds is just the start of improved access to services in the coming years.
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo's announcement included funding for additional treatment beds and withdrawal management beds for St. Joseph's Care Group and Dilico Anishinabek Family Care.
However, it did not address what local agencies have identified as the need for a 40-bed, 24/7 crisis centre.
In 2018/19, St. Joseph's Care Group's 22-bed Balmoral Centre had to turn away more people with mental health and substance issues than it was able to accept.
"We're very, very happy" with the new funding, said Nancy Black, vice-president for addictions and mental health at SJCG.
Black said the funding is time-limited, and will support what is essentially a two-year demonstration project that provides the opportunity "to see how we can better support effective treatment-matching and bed-matching."
She said the goal is to maximize the effectiveness of each bed by ensuring clients are accessing the specific care they need when they need it.
"Sometimes they just need withdrawal management. Sometimes people need more intensive residential treatment programming. Some people just need a safe bed. Some need beds for transitioning to another level of care. So these [newly-funded] beds will be incorporated into existing structures to make sure we're enhancing capacity for withdrawal management, stabilization and treatment supports."
The project may ultimately advance what Black called "a rather robust" proposal submitted a year ago to Ontario Health that focused specifically on crisis beds.
She said it called for an increase both in the number of withdrawal management beds and mental health crisis management stabilization beds.
"The need is greater than what we can provide. There's no doubt about it. I think everybody knows somebody who is dealing with a substance use or mental health issue."
Black said she expects that stakeholders will be in a better position two years from now to show precisely what types of beds are needed and where, "and to position ourselves for future funding opportunities."
Asked if that demonstration project could lead to a new facility, she declined to speculate but said there may be opportunities to consolidate services in one location.
"It could mean a number of things...This will provide us with the opportunity to demonstrate the need in a very fulsome, measured way that we'll be reporting back to our funders and to Ontario Health and the ministry."
Mayor Bill Mauro called the request for a crisis centre "the bigger piece" of a proposal from local agencies that he endorsed in a letter to Associate Minister Tibollo in 2020.
He said one of the key benefits of a crisis centre is to alleviate pressure on Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
But he said the city considers Monday's announcement of funding for 34 beds "a positive first step," and added that this week's announcement of funding for 37 addictions treatment beds in Sioux Lookout should also alleviate pressure on services in Thunder Bay.
"We're thankful...but there's still more work to be done," Mauro said.