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Pleas to reverse treatment bed changes heard at town hall

Posted: March 12, 2020

(March 11, 2020)

By: Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles, North Bay Nugget

Addicts don’t have a chance in hell to recover in North Bay, two advocates for those suffering from addiction say.

Between the extremely long wait lists, lack of services to meet the needs of people living on the streets and the looming closure of 29 residential addiction treatment beds, the situation is worsening.

John MacIsaac has seen a lot of heartbreaking cases on North Bay’s streets.

“It’s getting worse out there,” he said. “They’re (the health care system) making it so hopeless that people are giving up.”

MacIsaac didn’t hang around too long after the Ontario Health Coalition town hall meeting held at Centre Culturel Les Compagnons Tuesday evening, because he said he had to go find a friend.

The friend is an avid crystal meth user living on North Bay’s streets. He agreed to go get help, but was turned away.

You could see through MacIsaac’s eyes that he was heartbroken about how things turned out.

“It takes an amazing amount of convincing to convince addicts to get help, so many have tried and just given up because the services aren’t in place or the waiting lists are so long,” he said.

“Now I’m worried about his life. Each time an addict asks for help the services are not there and I can tell you the drug they’re addicted to has a much stronger pull than what we can say to help keep them clean.

“The 29 residential treatment beds are good but, in reality, it’s just a small Band-Aid to help fix a problem for a short period of time. If we lose that, who knows what will happen on our streets?”

MacIsaac spoke at the town hall meeting to discuss the impending closure of the 29 residential treatment beds and two crisis beds run by the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

The hospital issued layoff notices in light of this but has since rescinded them. The money previously used to fund the residential treatment beds will now go toward the creation of six new safe beds at North Bay’s transitional housing stabilization centre.

The centre, which hasn’t been developed at this time, will be a place where people can self-refer and access help on a 24-7 basis. The centre also will include six withdrawal management beds.

Doug Allan, a research officer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said what happens in North Bay regarding the 29 residential addiction treatment beds will play a key role in what will happen across the province.

“We’re rearranging the deck of the Titanic as it goes down. We have to fight these health care cuts,” he told the crowd.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, urged everyone to write letters or emails to Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli urging him to intervene and stop the cuts before more than half of the existing residential treatment beds are closed down.

She read a letter sent by former Chisholm Mayor Barbara Groves to Fedeli pleading for his support in keeping the beds open.

In her letter, Groves said you only have to have a family member addicted to drugs to realize how important those beds are.

“I am a grandparent of a wonderful young man with mental illness who has strayed into the drug scene which is presently prevalent in our region. The waiting list to provide the urgent medical need and support for these residents of our community is disgraceful,” Groves said.

“I am pleading with you to keep the existing spaces for care open; this is imperative. If this proposed closure becomes a reality, it will be devastating to many people in the Nipissing District who require residential treatment for their addictions,” she said.

“When it hits close to home, I have been aware of the urgent need for this facility to remain open. As you know, I represented my municipality of Chisholm for 15 years, the last seven as mayor, and during that time we worked together on projects to improve our municipalities. I know we both worked diligently for the betterment of our constituents and I plead with you to support this exceptional cause.”

The coalition is planning a rally April 4 at 3 p.m. The location has yet to be determined.

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