Hospital preparing to open addiction withdrawal beds

Cathy Dobson

Bluewater Health will address Sarnia’s devastating opioid problem in the coming weeks by opening as many as seven temporary beds to manage addiction withdrawal.

It’s the hospital’s next step to a permanent facility, said Paula Reaume-Zimmer, vice president of mental health and addictions.

The withdrawal management beds are possible because of $445,000 in funding provided through Ontario’s Strategy to Prevent Opioid Addiction and Overdose, announced earlier by the Erie St. Clair LHIN.

The hospital’s Mental Health and Addictions team considered using the money for withdrawal management facilities outside Bluewater Health. However, the beds will be located onsite because that can happen quicker, said Reaume-Zimmer.

“This is a great interim solution for those who want treatment closer to home,” said Laurie Hicks, patient and family advocate for addictions residential treatment.

“The need in our community is immediate,” she said. “While we work to secure a long-term solution it is great to see immediate help for those who wish to change their lives.”

Hicks was recently hired by Bluewater Health as a project assistant to work on a permanent withdrawal management facility.

Between 2014 and 2017, the number of people accessing Bluewater Health’s Community Withdrawal Treatment has more than tripled.

Hospital spokesperson Julia Oosterman has acknowledged the temporary beds are a stop-gap that won’t meet the demand.

“While it is a good-news story…we also realize it is not our perfect end-state,” she said.

Ultimately, Bluewater Health hopes to establish a 24-bed facility offering a fully integrated drug treatment program.

Several months ago, the hospital received a $200,000 grant from the Ontario government to find a site and begin planning for the facility, which is estimated to cost $8.4 million.

Oosterman said a consultant has been hired and a site should be finalized soon.

For several years now, Bluewater Health has offered a day withdrawal management program, and it will soon be augmented by the designated residential beds.

Anyone in Sarnia-Lambton who struggles with substance use, including drugs, alcohol or prescription medication, can seek help from the day program at various locations, including the Inn of the Good Shepherd and the Bluewater Methadone Clinic.

It’s a free, walk-in program that offers information about treatment, coping, harm reduction and navigating services.  Community withdrawal management is also available and provides care and support to people in their own homes or another safe environment.

Anyone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction can ask for help by calling 519-332-HOPE (4673) or toll free 844-778-HOPE (4673).

The day withdrawal management program operates from the sixth floor of the hospital’s Russell Building at 89 Norman Street.  Hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.