New mental health facility to open downtown this summer

Artist rendering of the Acess Open Minds facility in downtown Sarnia. Image courtesy, Bluewater Health Foundation

Tara Jeffrey

Hitting the fundraising target for a new youth mental health and addictions facility in Sarnia couldn’t have come at a better time, says Kathy Alexander.

“Our partners are reporting very, very startling numbers of increased demand in services, but also more critical need for services,” said the executive director of the Bluewater Health Foundation.

The Foundation has led the fundraising effort for ACCESS Open Minds, a youth and young adult mental health and addictions facility set to open downtown this summer.

The project is a joint partnership of Bluewater Health, St. Clair Child & Youth and CMHA Lambton-Kent.

An $850,000 donation from Progressive Auto Sales owners Dan and Jon Whitton earlier this month lifted the campaign to its $3-million goal.

“We’re thrilled,” Alexander said. “A donation of that magnitude is something that’s going to have a lasting impression on Sarnia.”

A portion of the Whittons’ donation is also going Sarnia’s addiction treatment facility, Ryan’s House.

Other major contributors have included the Mike Weir Foundation and the Judith & Norman Alix Foundation.”

Access Open Minds will open at the former CIBC building on the corner and Front and Lochiel streets, where construction and renovations continue. It will join 14 existing Access Open Minds in Canada as a go-to destination for youth 11 to 25 and their families seeking education, assessments, counselling and treatment.

Members of the Spoken Hope youth advisory committee and a number of other stakeholders are also heavily involved.

“The youth themselves have been so instrumental — it’s been pretty special to watch their voices be heard and represented at the exact same level as any adult or professional around the table,” Alexander said.

The pandemic pushed back the centre’s opening to this summer.

“Its such a beautiful space — the designs, how it’s all coming together — it’s not only going to change the way that mental health care treatment is offered in our community, but it’s also going to change the landscape of downtown Sarnia.”

The facility will also provide access to physical health and sexual health services, traditional Indigenous programming, and other services, all under one roof.

The need for better access to care has increased sharply, Alexander said.

“What people are really talking about now is the post-COVID-19 implications… the difficulties and challenges that are going to face our community well beyond the pandemic.

“And that’s the next step,” she added. “How do we respond and provide care that we haven’t been able to?

“People are excited about this. We can’t wait to cut that ribbon.”