Close scrutiny of newly acquired reports and documents reveals that to date, there has been no concrete evidence provided to support the closure of 31 hospital-based addiction treatment beds this coming June, in favour of a community services only model.

“In fact, the publicly available evidence shows that North Bay needs more hospital beds, and that the cuts to the North Bay hospital have already gone far too far. There is also an increasingly serious opioid addiction crisis in the community. We find it shocking that the government and its appointees would support the closure of important addiction services when people are dying from opioid overdoses,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition at a media conference in North Bay today.

The latest data from the Nipissing Parry Sound District Health Unit shows the number of reported overdoses is rising since May of 2019, up to 172 from 154 at the beginning of 2020. More than half of those overdoses are opioid related. The population group most affected by overdose are those under 44 years old.

“Northern Ontario has such limited mental health and addiction services. We need to keep those 31 hospital addiction treatment beds and add community-based services. It does not have to be one or the other. We need both,” said MPP France Gélinas, opposition NDP Health Critic. “We can’t steal from one program to give to another,” added Gélinas in calling for the provincial government to keep the hospital program open, while increasing community treatment options.

The advantages of hospital in-patient addiction withdrawal programs are well documented. Individuals in these programs have access to care for acute co-occurring medical conditions and mental health disorders. Close 24-hour medical supervision of in-patients allows for immediate treatment of any complications during the withdrawal process.

“For a community stricken with a very high rate of addiction, the closure of the residential addiction treatment beds means that many people, who might have achieved recovery or harm reduction, will not have that lifeline. People with a well rooted addiction need the clinical supports and protective environment that residential treatment provides. North Bay needs more addiction services, and it cannot afford to lose this capacity in residential care,” said Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) President Michael Hurley.

Cutting and devolving hospital-based addiction treatment to a gamut of community agencies is referred to as a ‘pilot’ in the reports reviewed by the OHC and OCHU/CUPE. However, the hospital bed cuts and closures are not actually recommended in the report on the pilot project, and there is no data assessing the needs of the patients waiting for residential treatment in North Bay, or quality of care and outcomes in the actual North Bay programs. The reports also show that some of the same agencies that will be filling the gap created by hospital program closure, are also among the key stakeholders informing the ‘pilot’ community model.