Nova Scotia’s Official Opposition is pounding the governing Liberals over their decision to move the Outpatient Withdrawal Management Program (also known as daytox) from the Strait-Richmond Hospital last spring.
Months after it was quietly closed, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) confirmed to The Reporter of their decision. The NSHA said the closure was made because of public health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and staff was “redeployed to support other Mental Health and Addictions Program care services.”
On October 9, the Progressive Conservative caucus issued a press release calling the move another healthcare loss at a time when people are experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. The release said as a result of this stress, some have turned to unhealthy and dangerous coping mechanisms, creating an increased need for mental health and addictions services.
The PC candidate in Richmond, Trevor Boudreau, said the Outpatient Withdrawal Management Program “is a necessary part of healthcare in Richmond County,” noting that those who rely on this service will be forced out of their communities, from family and support systems, to receive life-saving treatment.
On top of that, the PC caucus said there is no date to reopen the program at the hospital, leaving Richmond County with no mental health and addiction support workers.
But the NSHA refuted those claims, noting there are mental health and addictions support workers in Richmond County.
They also said residents can call the Mental Health and Addictions Program Intake Service Line (toll-free) at 1-855-922-1122, where they will be connected to a clinician Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – but this line has voicemail only on evenings, weekends and holidays.
The NSHA said the provincial Mental Health Crisis Line is also available 24/7 for an individual or someone concerned about them. The toll-free number is 1-888-429-8167.
As well there are several on-line mental health and addictions resources on the NSHA Web site at: https://mhahelpns.ca and free-of-charge, such as: ICAN (Conquer Anxiety and Nervousness) Anxiety Program; Mindwell U; and Therapy Assistance Online (TAO).
NSHA spokesperson Brendan Elliot said medically supervised withdrawal management is available for those whose needs match that level of care. Because most people do not require hospital admission for safe withdrawal from substances, and for those whose needs include withdrawal management, withdrawal can safely occur – with supports – in a community clinic or home setting.
There is also help for those who need ongoing care, such as counseling and other supports, to help them reach longer-term goals for recovery, health, and well-being.
As for people living with an opioid use disorder, Elliot said there has been an expansion of outpatient opioid agonist therapy across the province with minimal wait-times.
Mental Health and Addictions services, including withdrawal management and opioid use disorder treatment programs, have continued to be available throughout COVID-19, Elliot said, noting that “services in a few geographic areas have been slowed or suspended due to COVID-19,” such as the Strait-Richmond Hospital.
Elliot said the NSHA is gradually reintroducing and/or increasing activity levels of programs and geographic services that were slowed or suspended due to the pandemic “in consideration of community needs.”
Elliot said the province is committed to enhancing its continuum of high quality care and psychosocial supports for people living with harmful substance use over the coming months and years.
With the resignation of the Minister of Health to run for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, Progressive Conservatives added that they don’t want to see healthcare take a back seat to politics.
Boudreau called on the new Minister of Health to reinstate the Outpatient Withdrawal Management Program at the Strait-Richmond Hospital and provide a timeline for the return of the services, because that is what the community “requires.”
Boudreau and the PCs are correct; the Strait area does not need fewer services, especially in such an important sector, and during a global pandemic.
If the province was suffering under the yolk of many new cases each day, transmission was spreading around Nova Scotia, and healthcare resources were stretched to their limit, the public could accept some resources to be moved around.
But as it stands, there have been no new cases in the NSHA’s Eastern Zone for weeks, and before that, months, since the decision to remove daytox was made last spring. In that time, surely a strong case could have been made to restore this vital service, or at the very least begin the process of returning it.
The province’s stance that this was done purely because of the pandemic, is also questionable given that an internal report commissioned by the NSHA in 2017 recommended the closure of the program at the Evanston hospital.
While the health minister at the time claimed the province had no plans to close daytox, this is proof that this option was on the government’s radar for some time.
Whether COVID-19 was the excuse for such a move remains to be seen. The proof might depend on the fate of the program at the local hospital.