A delegation of Gary Sims, president and CEO of Grey Bruce Health Services (GBHS); Naomi Vodden, director, mental health and addictions services, GBHS; and Amy McKinnon, CEO, Owen Sound Regional Hospital Foundation, presented information on the launch of a unique model for care of those with addictions and mental health issues. 

The presentation came with a request – a commitment of $500,000 from the county toward the $15,000 million being raised. Operating funds have already been approved by the Ministry of Health. 

Bruce County council, while the first municipal body to hear news of the initiative, certainly won’t be the last. 

Sims described the initiative as based on a European model, with nothing else like it in Canada. It’s a “one stop shop” for people who need treatment for addictions – a variety of outpatient services, inpatient treatment, a special unit for people with multiple needs, and more.

The PowerPoint presentation described the facility as “a first of its kind, purpose-built facility dedicated to supporting individuals with addictions and mental health needs through voluntary treatment, transitional living and life skills development.” 

“It will stop the ‘revolving door’ syndrome,” where people receive treatment briefly and get released, then return, Sims said. “We’re trying to do some ground-breaking work.”

Vodden spoke about addiction and mental health issues being a “real problem” in Grey-Bruce. 

One thing that’s exacerbating the problem is the wait between when people show up in crisis, and when they get into some sort of program. 

“That’s where people drop out,” she said.

And that’s a problem the new vision will correct, with a range of programs for people who may not be ready for treatment, for those who need ongoing support, and for those with multiple needs. 

Another problem is the fact current addiction treatment programs are too short – only a month. 

“This program is for up to two years,” Vodden said, explaining this program “gives clients a chance to rebuild” their lives through vocational opportunities and other services and activities.

And it’s all under one roof, the former Bayview Public School – an Indigenous healing centre, kitchen, vocational training, provincially-funded (OHIP) treatment and transitional housing.

Scheduled to open in the fall of this year, the facility will cost $25 million, of which $15 million needs to be raised.

County Coun. Luke Charbonneau, Saugeen Shores, commented that this was “a timely presentation,” as the Grey Bruce Health Unit (he’s a member of the board of health) deals with an opioid emergency in the local First Nations community.

Vodden responded by saying GBHS is actively assisting in dealing with that emergency.

“We are already the biggest partner,” said Sims.

Charbonneau said, “It’s clearly a major issue; I’m glad to hear you’re addressing it.”

He went on to say that historically, resources have been in Owen Sound, as the major population centre, but Kincardine and Saugeen Shores now have a combined population that exceeds that of Owen Sound.

“Are there any plans to provide services in larger centres?” he asked.

Vodden described services that are presently distributed throughout Grey-Bruce, including the three new mental health workers, one of whom is based in Kincardine, and walk-in clinics in several communities.

County Coun. Kenneth Craig, Kincardine, had a question for the county’s new deputy CEO, Christine MacDonald, about the program and the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan.

“They are well aligned,” MacDonald said, noting there’s no “duplication.”

County Coun. Milt McIver commented, “I am excited about this project,” saying he wasn’t aware of how extensive the GBHS’s involvement with the First Nations community was.

In further discussion, council was told that since services were funded by the province (OHIP), this program will be open to people beyond Grey-Bruce borders, although the local area will be prioritized. There are sections of northern Huron County that are closely connected with Bruce – especially Lucknow, which has the county line right in the middle of town – and that’s how they’ll be treated.

Sims commented that this project involves a lot of crossovers between health care and social services, with corresponding complications in which provincial departments are responsible. 

“We bent a lot of rules to make this happen,” he said.

At the suggestion of Warden Chris Peabody, Brockton, staff were asked to prepare a report on the funding request.

“I commend you and your team for your vision,” he said. “It’s a fantastic vision… I wish you well.”

The numbers presented in the PowerPoint slides speak to the need of this innovative treatment model:

A 70 per cent increase in six years of opioid-related hospitalizations.

Opioid emergency department visits tripled.

Twenty-two per cent of Grey-Bruce residents report being regular heavy drinkers.

A 500 per cent increase in RAAM (rapid access addiction medicine) visits over three years.

WMS (withdrawal management service) is at 100 per cent capacity with a waiting list.

Eighty per cent of inpatient mental health beds report concerning levels of substance use.

Twenty-five per cent of all substance abuse visits return to the emergency department within 30 days for a substance abuse or mental health related issue.

Fifteen patients present with substance use concerns to the emergency department per day across Grey-Bruce.

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 14, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Herald-Times   Walkerton, Ontario
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