Central committee meeting considers update on addictions treatment centre

MINDEMOYA – The Central Manitoulin Safety, Security and Health Committee held its monthly meeting on September 17 in the Central Manitoulin council chambers.

This meeting saw one delegate, Lori Oswald, executive director of the Manitoulin Central Family Health Team there to present an update on the discussion with Doctor Suman Koka and representatives of the Northwood Recovery Clinic.

This clinic offers methadone and suboxone programs as well as addictions counselling, traditional First Nation counsellor support, traditional medicine practitioner and elders support, psychiatry services, Ontario Works contact support, child protection services support and collaboration of land-based programs.

“It was unclear what the meeting was for,” Ms. Oswald said, “as no agenda had been set.” The meeting was then shown what Northwood could offer in Wiikwemkoong as well as what they could offer in the Manitoulin Health Centre clinic; a possible integration between the clinic team and Dr. Koka’s team. Ms. Oswald asked for a one-page account of what Dr. Koka was interested in.

“He offers a clinic in M’Chigeeng,” she told the committee. “Our physicians group does offer services in the M’Chigeeng Health Centre, contractually. Most of the people reside in M’Chigeeng. He finds it limiting as there are other people besides First Nations who need health care. Dr. Koka offers a clinic in Little Current and Wiikwemikoong also.” 

There are also addictions clinics in Massey, Sault Ste Marie, Batchewana First Nation, Garden River, Blind River, Serpent River, Naughton, Haileybury, Thessalon and Sudbury.

Ms. Oswald went on to say that Dr. Koka produced the requested paper. “There’s a lot of research done on replacement therapy. For example, methadone. Our team works collaboratively with our partners. This proposal was not collaborative.”

Ms. Oswald would like to see another meeting with Dr. Koka but she also wants to see M’Chigeeng representatives, mental health people and physicians at the table. She also wanted someone from the Safety, Security and Health Committee there. 

“This is going to affect all of us,” she said, “so we should all start together.”

Committee Chair Steve Shaffer at this point told Ms. Oswald that the Central Manitoulin municipality had received a letter saying that Dr. Koka wants an additional clinic in Mindemoya, outlined the design and looked at three places for this clinic. Chair Shaffer said that he asked Dr. Koka about the Central Manitoulin Health Clinic and suggested he talk to Ms. Oswald. “We did not want to make any decisions until Dr. Koka had talked to the health clinic in Mindemoya,” Chair Shaffer explained.

Councillor Derek Stephens told Ms. Oswald that there had been a follow-up meeting and residents did not want the clinic in Mindemoya. 

“Is it because they did not want a clinic here?” Ms. Oswald asked. 

“They did not want it in the preferred location, the Old School (or the former credit union office),” Chair Shaffer said.

That meeting was held August 20, and there were three delegations there to speak about the clinic. Kelly Gratton spoke to the committee about the proximity of the proposed clinic to her residence. As noted in the committee’s minutes, she was concerned for her personal safety, the repercussions on the community and the lack of privacy for the clients that would be using the clinic.

Mindemoya resident Guy Nielen spoke to his concern for the effect the clinic would have on businesses and property values and Maja Mielonen spoke of the community’s image and the effect a clinic in the downtown core would have on tourism and the local business community.

To this, Ms. Oswald spoke of the different kinds of addictions including alcohol and gambling. “The use of methadone and suboxone are a replacement therapy for opioid addictions,” she explained. “We are ensuring that we are now reducing a patient’s meds so we can eventually get them off narcotics. We are not talking about cancer meds. Addiction can become labelled almost as a chronic disease. Addiction medicine cannot stand alone. You have to have everyone on board. It was very smart to refer Dr. Koka to the health clinic. All the physicians are on board to treat their patients that need addiction help. People with addictions are in denial so they may not talk about it with a medical provider. I am not saying that we don’t want to help these people. It is just we have to make good use of our resources.”

Ms. Oswald explained that patients are referred. “A protocol is in place. Replacement therapy is started, either in the hospital or the clinic. Right now in the hospital emerg as withdrawal is very serious.”

“Don’t you think that funds should be used where the most number of these people are?” Councillor Linda Farquhar asked.

“Yes,” said Ms. Oswald. “We take into consideration where that would be.”

Councillor Dale Scott commented that this sounds like a big operation for one specialist. “A concern of mine,” he said, “is that they are not getting one-on-one treatment.”

Ms. Oswald said that she will now reach out to Dr. Koka and say that this doesn’t meet what our needs are. “That doesn’t mean that we are closing the door on this. Money has flowed to Manitoulin to look at addictions. We have not come up with a model that meets the needs of the patients and the community,” she stated. The provincial government has merged 20 agencies into one called Ontario Health with health teams. “Manitoulin is a region that has reasonable access to health care. So a clinic for the Island, not for the health clinic here.”