Champlain LHIN Increasing Access to Community-Based Addiction Services for Women
Dec 10, 2018 - Teri Hansen used to visit the emergency room at Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital frequently due to alcohol addiction and its resulting complications. She ended up in the emergency room more than half a dozen times in one year, as a result of pancreatitis, falls or dehydration.
Teri would stay in a hospital bed for withdrawal management, go home, and find herself back in hospital again. “Every time I was at the hospital, I would say ‘I am not going to drink anymore,’ but I returned home and I was alone with my grief and I would start drinking again,” says the 48-year-old mother of two.
In spring 2017, Teri was admitted to the Maison Gilles Chagnon residential addictions stabilization program in Ottawa, which serves women with addictions and concurrent mental health issues who are motivated to improve their health.
Montfort Renaissance, a Champlain LHIN-funded community-based agency, developed and operates the bilingual program with support and annual funding from the LHIN. Accommodating 10 residents at a time for 6 to 8 weeks, the program teaches clients foundational life skills, boosts their self-confidence, and promotes the importance of developing and maintaining a daily routine for their well-being.
“I didn’t know the difference between day and night when I was sick. The curtains in my apartment were always closed and I was laying down on my couch. If it wasn’t for the TV, I didn’t know what time of the day it was,” Teri says, adding, “I learned my sleep schedule at the Maison Gilles Chagnon.”
Prior to this program, women with severe substance use issues who completed a withdrawal management program would re-enter the community and often return to an unsafe environment and unstable lifestyle.
“Now, Maison Gilles Chagnon offers an opportunity for these women to stabilize and work through post-acute withdrawal symptoms,” says Rod Olfert, a specialist in mental health and addictions services at the Champlain LHIN. “It filled a gap in women’s addictions stabilization services. Clients of the program are more able to confront and exit a revolving progression of addiction and abuse, and adopt a lifestyle of recovery and healthier living.”
Stabilization is a crucial step along the healing journey between withdrawal management (sometimes known as “detox”) and longer-term treatment. Michael Caruso, a coordinator at Montfort Renaissance who manages the program, explains the gap in stabilization services had been discussed by local health leaders for about 20 years before Maison Gilles Chagnon was created. “Hats off to the LHIN for having come through with that,” Michael says.
Champlain LHIN CEO Chantale LeClerc says the program improves access to much-needed, community-based health care for women. “It’s a great example of how we’re building health programs that transform lives, improve the patient experience, and keep people out of the emergency room by providing better options,” she explains.
In fact, ongoing evaluation of the program indicates a significant reduction in the number of clients going to the emergency room, mainly thanks to a nurse practitioner in the program who is equipped with opioid-substitute therapies. Recent data show that approximately 60 per cent of clients admitted to the program completed it successfully and transitioned to longer-term treatment—a positive result for such a vulnerable population.
Teri transitioned successfully from Maison Gilles Chagnon, moving to Brockville for her next stage of treatment. But it was at Maison Gilles Chagnon that she started to turn her life around. “I learned that there are people who loved me even when I don’t love myself. I learned that women can come together and support each other through almost anything. I learned that I could have a second chance, really. I learned that my story wasn’t over yet. I had my 47th birthday there. The party that they threw for me and the card I got just made me feel special.”
Sober for more than a year, Teri feels more confident, lives happily with her partner, and has reconnected with family and friends. She now has a career as a personal support worker.
Since she has completed treatment, she has been in hospital once for knee surgery, and several times to visit her elderly mother. Not long ago, Teri was in the hospital to see her newborn second grandchild.
“When the hospital staff saw me, they all hugged me and told me I looked great,” she recalls. “It is kind of nice because they tried very hard to help me, but the hospital can only provide so much. I don’t know what I would have done without MGC (Maison Gilles Chagnon)."
At Maison Gilles Chagnon last summer, addictions and mental health counsellors Farah El-Abbas (second from left) and Dominique Lessard (far right) share a moment with clients.