By Andrew Macdonald
Various governments over the past 20 years have not been kind to Addictions Services, with faceless bureaucrats making policy decisions and gutting the department.
I recently met with a McNeil cabinet minister who confirmed it’s bureaucrats that run the province, not politicians.
Nova Scotia has the third highest drinking population in Canada — a known fact — but Addictions Services has been under attack since the 1999 election of the Tory government of Dr. John Hamm.
That year, powerful Health Minister Angus ‘Tando’ MacIsaac actually took a government grant away from a 30-day rehab centre in tiny Monastery in northeastern Nova Scotia.
Called Recovery House, the centre was founded in 1970 and over three decades rescued thousands of addicts seeking solace from booze, prescription drug abuse, and street drugs.
It closed its doors in 1999, despite having operated a Cadillac recovery program.
Since then, government has also killed off a 30-day rehab at Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville.
Back in 2006, Valley MP Scott Brison, nephew of a recovering alcoholic, teamed up with businessmen John Risley and Mickey MacDonald and Michelin Tire to re-open the Valley rehab as the not-for-profit Crosbie House, and it still operates as a rehab, drawing addicts from across the region.
In recent years, the former Capital District Health Authority turned its week long detox at the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth into a co-ed facility, and some of its patients naturally were involved in romantic behaviour as a result of the co-ed nature of that detox.
During my 2012 stay at Dartmouth, a young millennial male and an attractive 20-something female, were caught underneath the detox beds, and then booted out of the treatment facility.
Many recovering alcoholics will tell you that the best operated detox program was based in Fisherman’s Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg, but in recent years, government closed that centre down, turning it into a day detox, where the addict is then sent home at night — a dangerous proposition for an addict in need of a five- to seven-day around the clock therapy and treatment.
In recent years, government also killed the Affected Others Group, which had trained government therapists overseeing a robustly attended support group for family members afflicted with an active user in its midst.
Government also cancelled the important Out Alive group, despite the fact there is a heavy booze and drug abuse by the city’s gay and lesbian community.
Now, as I reported recently, the Nova Scotia Health Authority has closed down an addictions centre which has operated in downtown Halifax for at least 30 years, including the last quarter of a century at George Ramia-owned Bedford Row.
After I first reported on that office closing, addictions followers on social media lighted up Twitter and Facebook across Canada.
My March 30th article was posted by two social worker entities in Ontario and even as far as British Columbia.
This week, former nurse and now MLA Elizabeth Smith-Mccrossin raised the closure and loss of government-sanctioned addictions support groups in the Legislature.
Health Minister Randy Delorey did not provide detailed answers on the Bedford Row closure, instead offering a typical political comment to avoid the questions at hand.
There are 20,000 office workers in downtown Halifax, and for those among them who are afflicted with addictions, being able to access government therapists at Bedford Row was a major convenience.
Bedford Row was within walking distance to the downtown core.
Now, addicts who seek recovery from often lethal drinking and drug addictions have to drive — and many addicts can’t afford a car or have lost their license when high — and travel 25 minutes to Addictions Centres as far away as Bayers Lake, Spryfield or Dartmouth, where downtown office addicts are now being referred.
Downtown Halifax streets like Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road are populated with homeless addicts, who panhandle, and many can’t pay even afford a toonie for bus fare to get to farther afield addictions centres.
Bedford Row also use to house a mental illness unit — and those homeless folk often would need a certificate from the centre to get a pass into downtown shelters, a convenience which has been robbed from them.
Being able to go to the Addictions office at Bedford Row was the homeless person’s only real option if they wanted recovery and therapy.
My recent attempts to meet with the bureaucrat who made the decision to shutter Bedford Row, was stymied by Nova Scotia Health Authority, and when they did respond to me, two PR folk at the authority did not directly answer my questions.
I am left wondering if there is even an ounce of accountability over the decision behind closed doors to close down the Bedford Row facility.
The Macdonald Notebook spoke this week to MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, a nurse the last 28 years, who is Health critic in the PC caucus, and a candidate for the PC leadership.
She is so concerned with the loss of a downtown Halifax addictions office that she ended up raising the issue on the floor of the legislature.
“I read your article on the closure of the Bedford Row office, and my first reaction is that it is not good”, she tells me. “I can’t imagine that it is helping people who were accessing services there.
“It’s my opinion that health care services should be taken into account on what is best for the patient, and make sure people have access to timely care.
“I woukd be interesting to know why the decision was made to close the office. Was it purely because of a real estate issue, and are there people not getting care because the location has changed?”
Here is the Hansard question she asked Health minister Randy Delorey. You be the judge on whether Delorey actually answered her query:
MS. ELIZABETH SMITH-McCROSSIN: Mr. Speaker, we’re very concerned about the lack of access to mental health services and addiction services across this province. In particular, in January, the Nova Scotia Health Authority made a decision to close the addictions office on Bedford Row, located in downtown Halifax. This closure has reduced access to services for those needing help with their addictions. This office has been in downtown Halifax for 25 years.
I’d like to ask the Minister of Health and Wellness, why was this addictions office moved and relocated out of downtown Halifax?
HON. RANDY DELOREY: Indeed, as a government, with our partners like the Nova Scotia Health Authority and other community-based partners, we are investing and supporting both mental health and addictions services. In fact, I’ll refer the member to the work that’s ongoing with our investments in opioid treatments, Mr. Speaker, methadone treatments, our naloxone kits, in partnership with the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, to help individuals to avoid the negative impacts of a drug overdose on opioids.
MS. SMITH-McCROSSIN: Mr. Speaker, we’re very concerned that decisions are not always made in the best interests of patients and those needing access to services. For example, a decision was made to stop funding a therapist providing a program called Affected Others. This program helped the therapist work with those affected by alcoholism and drug abuse, specifically the spouses and children. The money has been taken away for that program.
I would like to ask the Minister of Health and Wellness the question, will the minister commit to restoring the funding for the program called Affected Others, and also the Addiction Services in downtown Halifax?
MR. DELOREY: It’s important to note that the services that were offered at the site located in downtown Halifax that the member referenced are still being offered within the Halifax area, Mr. Speaker. So, that work and those services are still being offered by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the employees that were working there. It’s really just a matter of a change in location in that regard.
With respect to other specific programs and services being offered, we have a wide variety of programs and services being provided for people with mental health and addictions services. I would advise the member of one particular program that’s, again, rolled out in communities across the province, in partnership with the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, and other health care providers, that’s the Bloom Program, Mr. Speaker.
We have a wide variety of programs and services to help people with mental health and addiction needs.