Hospital excited that addictions treatment centre will return

St. Joseph’s Hospital is once again going to be home to an addictions treatment centre for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

The spending estimates report released by the provincial government on March 11 called for the re-establishment of the addictions centre. The 20-bed inpatient treatment centre will specialize in crystal meth, with 15 of the beds dedicated to meth, and the remaining five beds for other drug addictions.

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The treatment of addictions was a fixture at St. Joseph’s for many years, first at its old location on First Street and then at its present home on Nicholson Road. The service was discontinued in Estevan by the former New Democratic Party government in 1996.

“It’s really no big secret that for years it’s always been our desire to reopen the St. Joseph’s treatment centre that was closed 24 years ago by the former government,” said St. Joseph’s Hospital executive director Greg Hoffort.

It will be located in the same area that used to house addictions treatment at St. Joe’s. It’s a separate wing near the long-term care facility that currently houses some offices. Those offices will have to be relocated.

Speaking via a teleconference call following the announcement of the centre by the provincial government, Hoffort said a lot has changed in the past 24 years as far as addictions treatment is concerned, but this centre is going to be on the leading edge for crystal meth treatment.

“We are going to bring in expertise to Estevan in our treatment centre,” Hoffort said. “It’s going to be a centre that serves the province, and it will certainly be a welcome addition to the community.”

The expertise will extend from detoxification to treatment to post-treatment support.

“That speaks to some of the changes in addictions in the past many years. Gone are the days of a 28-day program. It’s now individually focused with each individual client, and so that’s how this treatment centre will operate.”

More details on the type of treatment that will be provided will be released in the near future.

The hospital projects 12-15 staff members in total for the new facility, which will include addictions counsellors, attendants, nurses and a host of other workers.

Crystal meth was selected to be the focus of the centre because it is a big issue in the province. When the hospital’s leadership team started talking to the Ministry of Health about the centre, and as they drew closer to the decision-making time, the hospital was asked if a crystal meth treatment facility was something they would be interested in.

“We were pleased to do this, and it’s going to provide some first of its kind treatment, so that’s another exciting improvement,” Hoffort said.

There are other addictions centres in the province, but not one dedicated to crystal meth.

When Estevan’s addictions centre closed 24 years ago, it was a sad day for the community, Hoffort said. People in the community thought it was still a needed service for Estevan at that time.

And they still view it as a needed service.

“It’s no secret that there’s an addictions problem here and elsewhere in our province, so it’s something we’ve talked about for years. About a year ago, when the last provincial budget was coming out, there was mention of addictions.”

They started talking about it as a management team, and so they started moving on the process. In the past 12 months, they have been travelling the province, conducting research at different addictions centre, but they have also travelled to B.C. and elsewhere so they had the information necessary for the Ministry of Health.

Another important component in the return of this service was the formation of the city’s economic development committee, which has very motivated community leaders, Hoffort said. They have been discussing opportunities for Estevan with the pending retirement of Units 4 and 5 at the Boundary Dam Power Station.

Hoffort also applauded the efforts of Estevan MLA Lori Carr, who is also the minister of government relations, among other capacities, and Health Minister Jim Reiter for helping to bring the facility to Estevan. (For more on Carr’s reaction to the addictions centre, see Page A5).

Police Chief Paul Ladouceur said that from the Estevan Police Service’s (EPS) perspective, the treatment centre is coming at the best time possible.

“We’re seeing a rise in crystal meth, and not just in our community but across the country. And while our members do a great job of keeping drugs off our streets and holding those who deal drugs accountable, we really have to start addressing the root causes and address the addictions themselves.”

Mayor Roy Ludwig said he is also excited to see the centre coming, as it will bring assistance to people in the community.

A lot of training will be happening and a lot of staff will have to be hired before the facility can open in the coming months. The planning, budgeting, policy development and other necessary elements will also be completed.

Hoffort is confident that the centre will go ahead, regardless of the state of the province’s finances due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept the provincial government from releasing a full budget last week.

“I’m concerned about COVID-19 and how things are going to transpire, but not the funding,” said Hoffort.

The centre is expected to be operating in the summer. It will cost about $1.4 million to operate this year, but since the cost is a partial year, Hoffort said the full annual cost will be $1.84 million. An additional $200,000 for pre and post-addiction treatment costs brings the annual funding to just over $2 million.

The capital cost to refurbish the wing of the hospital and relocate the offices is expected to be minimal.

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