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Manitoba spending $3.5 million for improved mental health, addictions support at HSC

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The province is spending 3.5 million dollars on addictions and mental health supports at the Health Sciences Centre. Erik Pindera looks into what people seeking support in the longer term need.

The province is spending $3.5 million to improve mental health and addictions support at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

Manitoba health minister Cameron Friesen announced Wednesday that the money will allow for six new beds and two seclusion rooms in a new unit to stabilize intoxicated patients or those in meth-induced psychosis, as well as hiring outreach workers to support patients being discharged from the unit.

A psychiatrist who specializes in addictions will also be hired for evenings and weekends at the hospital’s emergency department, as well as additional mental health nursing staff and security.

“The high volume of patients needing addictions and mental health supports continues to put pressure on services and our communities,” Friesen said.

“By investing in additional clinical staff specializing in substance use, addictions and mental health within HSC’s emergency department, we will improve patient care and emergency wait times for these patients.”

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The additions are expected to reduce wait times by six per cent and will help decrease offload times for Winnipeg police when they’re dropping off intoxicated patients — including those in a meth-induced psychosis — at the HSC emergency department.

“These addiction and mental health resources will enable us to improve the level of care that patients struggling with addictions receive upon arrival at HSC Winnipeg’s emergency department,” said emergency department medical director Dr. John Sokal.

“This is an important first step.”

Marion Willis, the executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, a non-profit that also operates an addiction recovery house, said she’s encouraged by the funding — but thinks much more needs to be done to address the drug epidemic at large.

“When an individual enters an emergency department and you stabilize, and the next step is going to be detox, those detox beds need to be available right now,” she said, noting the number of detox beds available were cut in March when the pandemic hit — right now, she said, there are only 17 beds open city-wide.

“It isn’t going to be a wasted investment, it may not be a large enough investment but nonetheless, it’s an investment in something that we need — now I think we also need to look at the other parts of that continuum.”

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That continuum includes longer-term recovery supports.

“To address meth addiction effectively, there has to be pretty much a two-year seamless run — from beginning to end recovery approach. Meth addicts have to be really, really well supported as all drug addicts do, but particularly meth,” she said.

“This is a great start, but we need to look at — what are the steps along that continuum and how do we come together to resource that?”

— with files from Erik Pindera

Click to play video 'Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman talks crime, meth with Justin Trudeau' Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman talks crime, meth with Justin Trudeau
Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman talks crime, meth with Justin Trudeau