New supportive treatment beds in Sioux Lookout part of growing efforts to ease addictions crisis

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New supportive treatment beds are opening in Sioux Lookout as the northwestern Ontario town looks to make mental health and addictions services more accessible.

The town’s emergency shelter, located in a former high school, is becoming a hub for vulnerable people to receive wraparound support. It is owned by the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB). In the spring, a Rapid Access Addictions Medicine (RAAM) Clinic opened there, and as of this week, it has 16 supportive treatment beds — the first of their kind in Sioux Lookout — on site.

About 20 per cent of emergency room visits to Sioux Lookout’s hospital last year were related to mental health or addictions, prompting four, purpose-built safe rooms to be opened there this spring. Mayor Doug Lawrence said he’s been pushing for more resources to address mental health and addictions challenges for years.

“It’s the first steps of trying to get the full spectrum of care and stable funding for it,” Lawrence said.

While Sioux Lookout’s permanent population is around 5,800, thousands more people from remote First Nations frequent the town to receive health care and social services. Many of these individuals face complex health challenges.

“The communities in the north are by almost any standard the most marginalized communities in the north, in terms of social determinants to health. Mental health and addictions are one of the challenges that they face, and that shows up in large numbers on the streets of Sioux Lookout,” said Lawrence.

“Our police detachment has been working for years as almost a front line on this, so we’re now getting the type of help that we need to help the people that are in need.”

37 beds by end of year

The provincial government says it has spent more than $4 million to bring addiction services to Sioux Lookout and surrounding areas. This funding covers the 16 supportive treatment beds, plus 15 addiction treatment beds and six withdrawal management beds to be opened by the end of the year.

“The community of Sioux Lookout will benefit greatly from these 37 new withdrawal and supportive treatment beds. The program will help and support vulnerable people by ensuring there is a continuous model of care between health and housing,” said Henry Wall, chief administrative officer of KDSB, in a news release Tuesday.

This funding flows directly through the Sioux Lookout Friendship Accord Economic Development Corporation, which acts as a critical access point to care for the municipality and the area’s First Nations.

A man stands behind a microphone outside a brick building.
Michael Tibollo, Ontario’s associate minister of mental health and addictions, announces funding for supportive treatment beds in Sioux Lookout. (Submitted by KDSB)

“We are making it possible for people to get more timely, convenient care by expanding access to recovery-oriented mental health and addictions care in northern Ontario,” Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said in Tuesday’s news release.

“These 16 new supportive treatment beds in Sioux Lookout are one more way our government is lowering barriers for people in rural and Indigenous communities across northwest Ontario to connect to the support they need.”

Central location for services

Having these services at the emergency shelter, alongside the RAAM Clinic, makes it easier for people to get the care they need in a central location, said Lawrence. It is also hoped it will mitigate calls to police related to mental health and addictions, preventing people experiencing these issues from being criminalized.

“Having it all in one, it just makes sense that people can come off a crisis and have the opportunity to begin a different journey,” he said. 

“It’s part of the spectrum of care for people who are in the throes of mental health and addictions issues, and so they might come in off the streets and get sober, have care, and some will move on to addictions treatment.” 

However, he said more stable capital funding is needed for programs like these to be successful.

“We have huge challenges that are historic in nature,” Lawrence said. “It took generations to create those challenges and is going to take generations to address them.

“This is a great first step.”

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