By Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative
The Thamesville Herald
Thanks to proactive measures against COVID 19, addiction services at the Westover Treatment Centre haven’t missed a beat during the pandemic.
“We had a decision to make in March,” says Mike Hannon, director of the centre’s 19-day substance use disorder program.
“Do we shut down or stay open by putting the protocols in place?”
Administrators decided to go for it. By adopting strict procedures right off the hop, Hannon says Westover was among the 30 percent of drug and alcohol rehab centres in Ontario that kept their doors open during lockdown.
More than 70 percent closed, adding longer wait times to Ontario’s already over-burdened addiction treatment machine.
The lack of services created a province-wide vacuum, says executive director Laird Brush, leading to a spike in demand for Westover’s programs.
According to Brush, Westover — which has had no reported cases of COVID to date — began to pull in clients from as far away as Thunder Bay and beyond.
They also began getting requests, he says, from other rehab centres wanting to know how they did it.
Ironically, says Hannon, on-service clients “never knew the difference” when it came to delivery of services.
Some of the protocols now in place include a complete lockout of visitors with the exception of a few carefully scrutinized volunteers and alumni.
Everyone entering the facility is screened for the virus at least three times prior to arrival. This is followed by random temperature screenings conducted throughout their stay.
Family members aren’t allowed beyond the parking lot when they drop people off, or to attend normally scheduled weekend sessions.
Nor are they allowed at the close or “commencement” of any of the sessions.
Strict social distancing and hand washing is also part of the plan.
The centre normally runs with 25-30 clients on average.
Brush says another important aspect of the COVID plan, was the establishment of a working agreement with local physician Dr. Stephen Jones. The doctor responds to medical problems on an on call basis, eliminating the need for clients to go to a hospital emergency room.
All in person 12-step meeting and aftercare sessions were cancelled and moved to a Zoom platform.
Even if a case of COVID 19 comes to light, Westover has set up an isolation procedure.
The pandemic has also led to the creation of a new slogan and t-shirt campaign, titled: “Westover Strong — Hope Is Not Cancelled!.”
In another strange twist, Hannon explains that while isolation saves people from COVID, being cut off “amplifies the sense of disconnection that fuels addiction.
“Our program is designed to help people connect,” he adds. “First with others, and then with themselves.”
Brush has nothing but praise for his staff for their success during the pandemic.
“Everybody stepped up,” he says of his staff. “They went above and beyond. It’s remarkable. Truly amazing.”
Westover Treatment Centre offers a 19-day program for substance abuse; a six-day program designed for family and friends; and a six-day relapse prevention program.