Today marked the grand opening of the North Eastern Ontario Local Health Integration Network (NE LHIN) funded Rapid Addictions Access Medicine Clinic (RAAM) in Sault Ste. Marie.
The facilities opened at 123 East St., out of the Algoma Treatment Centre (ATC).
This was an opportunity for the clinic, operated by the Sault Area Hospital (SAH), to introduce patients and partners to the services.
Staffed by SAH physicians and a Nurse Practitioner, it provides expedited, barrier-free treatment for patients who are addicted to alcohol or opioids.
Funded by the North East Local Health Integration Network (NE LHIN), the RAAM clinic is part of the NE LHIN’s Regional Opioid Strategy, designed to meet the rising rates of opioid use disorder, accidental overdoses, hospitalizations, and ER visits in Northeastern Ontario.
This strategy was developed by the LHIN’s Regional Mental Health and Addiction Advisory Council, who will continue to work with Opioid Task Forces within each of the Sub-Regions to support its implementations, ensuring Northerners have timely and equitable access to care.
A total of $1.65 million in base funding is being invested across Northeastern Ontario, creating programs in Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Timmins, and Sudbury, with Sudbury acting as the regional hub of the RAAM operations.
Jeremy Stevenson, CEO of NE LHIN, stated,
“The funding was created because of the work done by the regional group on the regional opioid strategy and it was then defined by the need and the rising rates of opioid users and disorders in our area, from accidental overdoses to hospital visits to death.”
This funding comes in the form of $300,000 for the operation of the clinic and to enhance community withdrawal management from the NE LHIN, including outreach supports to Blind River, Thessalon, Bruce Mines, Iron Bridge, St. Joseph’s Island, Elliot Lake, and Hornepayne.
This will assist in responding to a huge gap in service for opioid addiction, which has been a heated topic in our community, especially since the W5 documentary ‘Steel Town Down’ (read my response to the doc here).
As stated here, Algoma has the highest opioid death rate in Ontario.
People in Algoma will be able to receive timely medical treatment for opioid and alcohol addictions, closer to home.
“What we want to offer is timely and comprehensive addictions assessments. We bring people in and try to identify their specific need, whether they need programming, counselling, stabilization, harm reduction,” explained Dr. Robert Maloney, lead physician and Suboxone/methadone specialist.
“But most importantly, and this is a new strategy for our region, we want to be rekindling lost connections for the patients. Many of these people have lost their connection with primary care or the healthcare network,” he continued.
“What happens is they start to withdraw from regular care. They depend on the substance to solve all their problems. They then lose connection from their families, their healthcare, and the overarching system and bonds within the community.”
Engaging multiple levels of healthcare professionals and experts will create a network of care, with the goal of, as stated by Maloney, “Identifying people earlier in their addiction instead of at the tail end of their addiction, suffering from issues resulting from years of drug use.”
How the Algoma RAAM Clinic Works
No booked appointment or referral is necessary, although referrals from doctors, nurses, social workers, addiction counsellors, and community providers are welcome.
Patients can walk-in or call 705-759-3434 ext. 7200.
The RAAM model is designed to initiate therapy for opioid or alcohol addiction, then triage clients to the most appropriate ongoing care provider.
It is not intended to replace or duplicate the care provided by a primary care provider or a treatment clinic.
The NE LHIN’s Strategy uses a ‘hub and spoke’ model, in which RAAM Clinics are located within each Sub-region’s urban centres (the hub) with links (spokes) to outlying areas.
The Algoma RAAM Clinic will provide outreach supports to providers throughout the north and east Algoma District.
As one of the highest users of telemedicine within 300 Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) sites across the region, this strategy leverages virtual expertise to ensure equitable access to services for Northerners living in Algoma.
This extended reach of the RAAM clinic is critical to the broader Algoma region.
Dr. Eric Haapala, Rural Family Physician in Thessalon and Bruce Mines, who facilitated the first referral to the RAAM clinic, highlighted this at the grand opening.
“Being in rural medicine, we don’t often see the face of addiction as portrayed in medical dramas like in W5. I think of patients struggling with chronic pain and misusing their escalating prescribed doses of opioid medication. I think of patients suffering from end stage liver disease caused by a life time of heavy alcohol consumption. I think of patients coming into emerg with chronic abdominal pain, who say “I am allergic to everything except morphine.”
“I think about my patients with barriers to access to care because of the logistics of arranging travel to the Sault for methadone. I think of those who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions that aren’t even on my radar.”
Ultimately, it is a scary and ever changing reality for front-line workers and physicians regardless of location, but being in a rural setting makes it all the more daunting.
The use of OTN, paired with mobile workers connected through Bruce Mines, Thessalon, and Richard’s Landing, will assist patients with their consultation, stabilization, and long-term care management of acquiring addictions services close to home.
Ron Gagnon, CEO of SAH, told attendees, “This is all part of a larger issue to provide quality care as close to home as possible.
Moving forward, We have received great support from City Council and LHIN, and last week the LHIN approved our updated proposal for withdrawal management extended services and new facility plans, so we can continue moving forward with that.”
Over the next three years, Ontario is investing more than $222 million province-wide to combat the battle against the opioid crisis.
Read more about Ontario’s comprehensive strategy for opioid addiction here.