Addiction recovery gets a boost

Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Foundation executive director Mary Lou Crowley elbow bumps United Way of Chatham-Kent board chairman Wes Thompson following a $155,000 donation the agency is making to help fund the hospital’s new 10-bed withdrawal management unit. CKHA Foundation board chair Bob Hockney offers his appreciation in the background.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The bid to help local residents recover from addiction has taken a big step forward thanks to a major boost from the United Way of Chatham-Kent.

A $155,000 donation to the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Foundation to assist with construction of the hospital’s new $1.1-million withdrawal management unit brought elbow bumps and smiles from officials all around.

United Way board chairman Wes Thompson said the agency wanted to be part of the solution, as the addiction issue is one the non-profit agency bumps into “time and time again.

“It just affects so many programs we work with,” Thompson told reporters at the official announcement last week.

“We heard about it and we were so excited,” Thompson said that United Way officials decided they had to “step up to the plate on this one.”

Thompson went on to explain that helping people begin the recovery process is a way of heading off the problem by catching people earlier in the cycle of addiction.

“This process (withdrawal) is part of that,” Thompson said. “A lot of people don’t understand the economics of it…we want to try and catch people upstream. It’s better for the community…it’s a lot less expensive than it is after they have gone through all the dreadful things that they go through.”

Alan Stevenson, vice-president of mental health and addictions programs for the hospital, said withdrawal management is a “critical” first step in the recovery process.

Stevenson said the new unit will allow local residents to quickly access services close to home, rather than have to travel out of town to London, Windsor or Sarnia.

Timely access to detoxification offers a crucial “window” for people needing help, Stevenson explained, as a person may continue to use substances if the detoxification isn’t readily available.

Completion of the new unit, located in the former mental health outpatient clinic, is slated for June 30, Stevenson said, with the Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine Clinic to be housed adjacent to it.

In the interim, three withdrawal management unit beds have been operating at the CKHA since March.

According to Stevenson, the beds are usually full, adding that while local physicians are making referrals, most patients are coming in by way of the emergency room.

The unit, set to run 24-7, provides a supportive environment for withdrawal, Stevenson said. Patients receive medications to assist with withdrawal, and psychological support services are also offered.

“So often if somebody is trying to withdraw without medical support, the physical symptoms can be very difficult to manage and can be better managed with medical support,” he added.

According to Stevenson, patients normally stay in withdrawal management for five to seven days, adding patients are also assisted with securing post-withdrawal treatment for addiction.

The donation by the United Way is the single largest the agency has made in recent years, bringing the fundraising total for the project to $755,000. The unit has already received $500,000 in one-time funding from the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, and $100,000 in one-time funding from the province for capital spending costs.

The Ministry of Health has already committed to annual operation funding of $1.3-million.

Hospital officials are pleased with the donation. President and CEO Lori Marshall said local health-care leaders are “profoundly grateful” for the community’s support for pivotal mental health initiatives.

Foundation president and CEO Mary Lou Crowley said the announcement celebrates the partnership of two community organizations, united by one common goal.















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