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Final funding expected soon for conversion of Sault Star building to residential withdrawal management site

Operational funding was announced in May, but MPP Ross Romano said the capital funding for the project is still to come
20211201 Former Sault Star Building KA
A withdrawal management site is planned for the former Sault Star building on Old Garden River Road.

Final funding is expected to be announced for a residential withdrawal management services site planned for the former Sault Star building, with renovations expected to be completed by the summer.

In an interview, Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano said the provincial government is waiting for the final tender for 145 Old Garden River Rd., a portion of which will be renovated to offer 20 beds for withdrawal management.

Romano, who is Ontario's minister of Government and Consumer Services. said the original $343,000 announcement for the site made in May covered operational costs, not the capital expenditures needed for the renovations. 

“Once the tender comes in, I will be announcing the capital funding and then we would be proceeding to build," said Romano. "The renovations work there should be concluded by July of 2022.”

That final tender is expected to be completed by December or January, at the latest, said Romano.

SAH moved the program into the hospital in March of 2020 after an appliance fire forced the closure of the Detox Centre located at 911 Queen St. E.

Romano said the new beds will add to the withdrawal management services already being offered in the community.

“There seems to be a notion that services don’t exist,” said Romano. 

Lisa Case, director of mental health and addictions for SAH, agreed there has been some confusion about the level of services available to people in Sault Ste. Marie, in part because of a change in terminology.

“I was in a meeting with some of our community partners who are in the justice system and at several times in the meeting I referenced withdrawal management and that we had to move it on site to the hospital until the building is renovated and about 20 minutes into the conversation one of the people said, ‘yah, but the detox is closed,'” said Case.

“It sort of smacked me in the forehead a little bit that there was a miscommunication in that language. Historically for many years, withdrawing from alcohol or other substances would often be called detox. From a clinical perspective, other language would be withdrawal management — you’re managing that withdrawal.”

Case said the increase to 20 beds at the new facility will meet the needs of the community. Four acute care beds will remain in operation at SAH after the move.

“We are quite confident that is the right number of beds,” said Case. 

“Most people who come into care are either acutely intoxicated, they are in acute withdrawal so they are having physical and physiological symptoms. We get them into a period of stabilization. They can stay with us generally up to about 30 days,” she said.

SAH made some changes when it took over the program after the closure of the Detox Centre. Originally the facility was staffed with addictions services workers trained to provide psycho-social support, coaching, education and other supports.

“With some support from the provincial government we were able to add in registered nurses to support that,” said Case. “So if someone is having difficulty with sleep, fever, pain, nausea, pain or diarrhea or nicotine replacement, we are able to provide the medications to support them right on site.”

Prior to that, many patients exhibiting those symptoms would be sent to the Emergency Department.

"Often that is where we would lose people,” said Case. 

An additional $155,000 a year of funding recently announced by the provincial government will add a nurse practitioner to the team.

“That will go a long way to helping to alleviate some of the stress on the physician support that we have ,” said Case of the addition.

The biggest game changer, said Case, is the addition of in-home withdrawal management support, made available through an additional $120,000 in funding by the Ontario government.

She said for some people, stigma or life circumstances don’t allow for them to come in for residential withdrawal management. 

“So they would tolerate that as best they could at home and end up in the Emergency Department and then in hospital. I think the addition of that team will reduce the number of individuals who have to suffer at home or end up in hospital,” said Case.

Romano said the provincial government has added more than $1.6 million in annualized operational funding for a long list of mental health and addictions initiatives that include the withdrawal management services and in-home care, among others.

“These are all new services that didn’t exist before,” said Romano. “I think the most important part to take away from it is we are trying to build a more proactive system, as opposed to a reactive system.”