Treatment centre closer to home

The Ottawa area will be getting two residential drug treatment centres for youth between the ages of 13 and 17, says the chief executive of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network.

The long-awaited plan, which will goes before the health network board for approval on May 28, calls for a 15-bed residential facility for English-speaking youth on the west side and a separate five-bed facility for francophone youth on the east side.

The program already has strong support from the province, the city and police Chief Vern White, Dr. Robert Cushman said in an interview yesterday. "It's gonna happen."

As it stands, there are no residential treatment facilities in the region for youth under the age of 16. Some addicted young people are sent to Thunder Bay and even farther away for treatment.

Community leaders have been pushing for a youth residential facility for about 20 years and a handful of plans have never come to fruition. In June 2006, for example, then-mayor Bob Chiarelli said he would ask fellow councillors for support to buy the former Rideau Correctional Centre near Burritts Rapids and convert it into a treatment centre. The proposal never coalesced.

The treatment centre, as outlined yesterday, is scaled down from earlier plans, which called for as many as 48 beds. The most recent report, delivered only last month, considered a 28-bed model.

Dr. Cushman said the new model is even smaller because the centre can't sacrifice quality. Research shows that the best residential programs result in a success rate of up to 80 per cent. This is what the Champlain region should aim for, he said.

That means the program must invest in the best interventions and staff and have supports in the community for youth when they return home from the residential program.

"You don't just want to parachute these kids back into the community," said Dr. Cushman. "It's better to start with a few beds and do it right and build it over time."

Although there has been no cost suggested for buying or renovating facilities to house the centres, the cost of running the residential program is estimated at more than $2 million a year, which would come from health network's budget for addictions and mental health.

The health network is considering a Carp Road facility as the west-side location. The building is currently used by the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group as the Meadow Creek adult addiction centre, but the program is scheduled to be moved into Ottawa this summer, said Dr. Cushman.

The youth program is to accept about 80 teens a year, each for a stay of about 90 days. Dr. Cushman estimates that triple that number of addicted teens would benefit from a residential program.

Pauline Sawyer, executive director at the Alwood Treatment Centre, said the residential facility with 14 beds for 16- to 22-year-olds near Carleton Place has a waiting list that is three to six months long.

"There's a huge need for beds for those 16 and under," she said. "We've been waiting for this for 15 or 20 years."

Mike Beauchesne, executive director of the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre on Bronson Avenue, said there may be considerable pent-up demand for the program because nothing like it has been available before.

He has sent teens as far away as Manitoba for treatment, which he admits is not an optimum solution because they are so far from their families. "We're seeing kids come through the door who commence use at 12 or 13 years of age."

While the number of beds in this proposal is smaller than the original plan, the important thing is that the centres are being established, he said.

"I can't say at this point that it is a fait accompli," said Mr. Beauchesne. "It looks good. I'm not ready to pop the champagne yet."

Dr. Cushman says youth addiction has been the "orphan" of health care. Although he can't explain why little has been done about establishing a residential program for drug-addicted youth, despite decades of effort, he says he should be held responsible for his term as head of the health network.

"What we're doing is building a foundation. We want to build from there."
source: © The Ottawa Citizen 2008