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COVID-19, Addiction Services & Accessible Testing

COVID-19, Addiction Services & Accessible Testing: A Letter to Doug Ford & Christine Elliott

UPDATE – May 25, 2020:

Freedom From Addiction is pleased to see Doug Ford & the Ontario Government open up and encourage testing to all those who need it. On Sunday May 24th, Ford encouraged the public to get tested for COVID-19, including those who may be asymptomatic or think they may have been exposed. The messaging from Ford is a marked change from earlier Ministry of Health guidelines for the general public, which stated that only those who are displaying one or more symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested. The progression of expanding testing eligibility requirements will allow us to provide necessary addiction treatment to the most vulnerable populations during this time.

If you are considering addiction treatment here at Freedom from Addiction, we encourage you to go to one of the 129 COVID-19 assessment centres and get tested. We are currently only accepting patients who receive a negative test result.

Wishing you and your loved ones safety during this time,

– The Freedom From Addiction team

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ORIGINAL POST – April 21, 2020:

Freedom From Addiction’s very own Executive Vice President Mandeep Sandhu RP, CCCS, CCAC is the primary author of a letter to Premier Doug Ford, the Ontario Government, Minister Christine Elliott and the Ministry of Health (see below). This letter requests access to rapid COVID-19 testing and PPE for health and addiction treatment centres to enable them to effectively fight against COVID-19 in Ontario.

We have already seen the devastation in other health and addiction centres across Ontario. CAMH and Homewood Health Centre have already had COVID-19 outbreaks that will have a far-reaching impact on not only those centres and their patients, but also local hospitals and emergency care. With rapid testing available, it would create a necessary domino effect that would not only help ease detox loads in hospitals and limit overdose cases but also give clients the support they need to safely overcome their addictions.

Addiction centres are now dealing with two interconnected crises’ – opioid addiction and now COVID-19. There were more than 14,700 opioid-related deaths and 19,490 opioid-related hospitalizations in Canada from January 2016 to September 2019. Without our help, these individuals will also be facing hospitalization and potentially death if they cannot access proper treatment services like ours.

 

HELP MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN

Health professionals – including physicians, nurses, addiction professionals, public health practitioners, aspiring health professionals, and others passionate about this cause – are asked to sign onto our petition in support of rapid testing being accessible to essential services like addiction centres. Please find the petition here.

 

READ OUR COVID-19 RESPONSE & ACTION PLAN

We previously released a blog statement in response to the initial COVID-19 outbreak and the impact on Freedom From Addiction and other addiction centres here.

 

READ OUR LETTER TO DOUG FORD & CHRISTINE ELLIOTT

Dear Premier Doug Ford and Minister Elliott,

We’re contacting you from Freedom From Addiction, one of Canada’s leading alcohol and drug addiction recovery homes in Ontario.

We are writing to you today to convey our sincerest concern in regards to the accessibility of COVID-19 testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for “essential services” such as addiction treatment centres. In the best interest of our current clients and staff, we have unfortunately decided to no longer accept patients to Freedom From Addiction without a negative COVID-19 test. As a leading drug and alcohol treatment center in Ontario, we cannot afford to accept individuals that have not been tested, as it would put our staff and other clients (who are already high risk) at an even larger risk. While this is a voluntary measure that we have put in place, we have already seen the devastation in other health and addiction centres across Ontario. CAMH and Homewood Health Centre have already had COVID-19 outbreaks that will have a far-reaching impact on not only those centres and their patients, but also local hospitals and emergency care. As you may have been aware, the Alliance for Healthier Communities has already reached out to Minister Elliott almost a month ago to bring light to COVID-19’s impact on essential service health providers responding to the crisis. Unfortunately, no public response has been made in relation to that yet, which puts these essential services at risk every day. If given quick access to proper testing and PPE, addiction centres can and will help with the front-line fight against COVID-19, flatten the curve, and limit the strain on emergency services.

For those in the addiction treatment space, not only are we battling with COVID-19, but we’re also facing the biggest opioid addiction crisis in years. With the lack of accessible testing for essential services in the healthcare space, we are forced to make the difficult decision of turning away addiction patients for the safety and health of all our staff and current patients. It has been one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. In these last two weeks alone, we’ve turned away at least 40 clients, some of whom came from victim services trafficked individuals. As you may know, some addiction facilities receive funding from the Ontario government to treat addiction, as well as take in, detox and treat potential human trafficking victims. We can no longer sustain this program while maintaining the safety of all staff and current high-risk patients. Without the help of addiction centres, many of these individuals will end up in hospital emergency rooms at some point. This will only continue to overwhelm the healthcare system with their limited access to in-house addiction treatments. 

Individuals who suffer from addiction are dying every day due to the opioid crisis and are desperate to attend treatment. There were more than 14,700 opioid-related deaths and 19,490 opioid-related hospitalizations in Canada from January 2016 to September 2019. Without our help, these individuals will also be facing hospitalization and potentially death if they cannot access proper treatment services like ours. 

While we are not an OHIP covered facility at this time, we are more than happy to do our part in this fight against COVID-19 and the opioid crisis. If rapid testing becomes available, we are more than willing to take clients into our medical detox and addiction programs to take the pressure off hospitals and emergency services. We have all the necessary staff, standards and accreditation to do so. With rapid testing available, it would create a necessary domino effect that would not only help ease detox loads in hospitals, overdose cases but also give clients the support they need to overcome their addictions. We have a full facility to assist on these fronts, but none of this can be possible without your help. 

As an essential service, it is vital for us to remain open, however, we are desperate to find a solution that keeps everyone safe. We hope the provincial government, as well as the Ministry of Health, will work together to legislate greater accessibility to COVID-19 testing to essential services in the mental health and addiction space. We hope to be in contact soon to come up with a solution that benefits everyone – patients, front-line staff, local hospitals and emergency care, and the entire Ontario population. As seen through the incredible actions of Canadians across this province thus far in response to this pandemic, we are confident that if we work together we will come out stronger. 

 

Sincerely, 

Mandeep Sandhu RP, CCCS, CCAC

Executive Vice President, Freedom From Addiction

The Freedom From Addiction Team

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