United Way supports new withdrawal management service at CKHA

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A new 10-bed withdrawal management service under construction at Chatham’s hospital has received a $155,000 funding boost from the United Way of Chatham-Kent.

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When the agency heard about the plans for the withdrawal program, United Way officials decided “we’ve got to step up to the plate on this one and hopefully to inspire other people in the community to support it too,” the charity’s board president, Wes Thompson, said.

“We wish we could catch people sooner in that cycle than we do now, and this process is part of it,” Thompson said. “A lot of people don’t understand the economics of it. We want to catch people upstream. It’s better for the community and it’s a lot less expensive than it is after they’ve gone through all the dreadful things that they go through.”

The donation to the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Foundation builds on the $500,000 the Municipality of Chatham-Kent has already contributed, as well as $100,000 from the provincial government.

The April 20 announcement was more than just recognizing a major gift, said Mary Lou Crowley, foundation president and CEO.

“Today is about celebrating the partnership of two community organizations, united by one common goal: combatting the ongoing mental health and addiction crisis right here in Chatham-Kent.”

Earlier this year, the province approved $1.3 million in annual operating costs for the new withdrawal unit at the Chatham site, but roughly $1.5 million is needed to renovate space previously used as an outpatient program so it can become a residential unit.

The project is on target to fully open by June 30, but three withdrawal beds have already been in regular use since March 15, said Alan Stevenson, vice-president of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance’s mental health and addictions program.

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Being able to properly go through withdrawal is a “critical step” to dealing with an addiction, Stevenson said.

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

Stevenson said withdrawal is the “initial process to physically manage the symptoms of stopping to use a substance.”

Up until now, however, withdrawal management services in the region were only available in Sarnia, Windsor or London.

“Those beds are almost always full and so the likelihood of getting from Chatham, usually from our emergency department, is very low,” Stevenson said.

He noted partners from the surrounding withdrawal facilities have been receptive, but their beds are often full with their own residents.

Referrals for the three beds in operation are being received from the community and local physicians, but most are still coming through the emergency department, Stevenson said.

“For those people who come into (emergency and they want to stop using substances, now they have an option.”

Stevenson said there is a “critical moment” when health-care workers have an opportunity get a person into treatment but, if that window is missed, the person may go back to using drugs.

The Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine clinic will also relocate beside the withdrawal service after construction is complete, said Lori Marshall, the hospital group’s president and CEO.

“We are profoundly grateful for the support our community has shown towards these pivotal mental health initiatives,” she said. “Along with the (Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine) clinic’s expansion to our Wallaceburg site in November of 2021, much progress is being made in the delivery of patient-centred addiction care throughout Chatham-Kent.”

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