Residents, council voice opposition to location of addiction treatment clinic in downtown Mindemoya

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MINDEMOYA – While It appears no final decisions have been made by Northwood Recovery Centre on a location for its proposal to open an addiction treatment clinic in Mindemoya, community members and members of the Central Manitoulin council have made it clear they are opposed to the clinic being located in the former Northern Credit Union in downtown Mindemoya. 

Over a dozen members of the public met with the Central Manitoulin safety, security and health committee at a meeting this past Tuesday evening. 

Kelly Gratton told the meeting that she and her husband had moved to Mindemoya over a year ago. “We moved here when I was very pregnant,” she said, noting that because her husband works up north she is alone at home a large majority of the time. “We moved here because it is safe, beautiful and we are surrounded by nature,” she said. 

“Living here is a dream for us, and we felt it would be a great place to raise our daughter,” said Ms. Gratton. “The old Northern Credit Unit location is not an ideal location for a drug crisis-rehab centre.” Her family lives in the house beside the former credit union. “This location would not be discreet for clients of the clinic; a clinic like this is supposed to allow clients to enter and leave discreetly. Everyone would see who is coming and going.”

“It is a horrible location,” stated Ms. Gratton. The front door is 26 feet “from our garage and 40 feet from our front door,” she noted. As well, she pointed out there are two staircases that come from the building and both descend on her property. 

Anything to do with a clinic like this provides challenges, she said, noting this can include people loitering, dropping garbage, increased theft and people smoking in her adjacent driveway. Ms. Gratton said in talking to an employee who works at the Espanola Hospital in the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine program, “I was told that for a clinic like this, clients need to be provided a place where they can enter and leave discreetly. And they wondered why this clinic is not being looked at for the hospital here in town or the medical clinic.”

“I’m living right next door to the (credit union building) and it makes me feel sick and scared, especially for my daughter, about a clinic opening up here,” stated Ms. Gratton. 

Guy Nielen said, “the idea of a clinic opening downtown is concerning to residents and businesses,” pointing out he had walked past the old credit union building a couple of weeks ago and saw notices on the wall about a drug rehab clinic/centre. “This would be a very poor choice for a clinic. For one thing, it would be downtown, and anyone entering or leaving would be seen by someone.” 

Mr. Nielen said he was told by one person that if the clinic is located there they would stop shopping in stores in this area of the downtown. It would also mean reduced property values. “Maybe council could pass a bylaw restricting the use of buildings within town limits for this type of operation.”

Maja Mielonen said, “I don’t know everything about these type of clinics, but I do know about image. Residents want a town that looks nice, and they can feel comfortable and safe in. And image is important for businesses,” she said, noting that when a similar clinic was located downtown in Little Current they had problems there because “people avoided the downtown area because there was a rehab clinic there.” And she noted clients of the clinic need to be able to enter a place for service, like a hospital, discreetly. 

Councillor Steve Shaffer, chair of the committee, told the meeting that in mid-April the municipality had received a letter from Northwood who hoped to open a clinic in Central Manitoulin. “The letter was forwarded to the SSH committee in May and Kaleigh Harrietha (who is a registered practical nurse at Northwood Recovery Centre) indicating they desired opening a methadone rehab clinic here. She provided statistics around opioid overdoses and needs. The stats were quite startling in terms of addiction numbers. Kaleigh gave an overview and said three locations were possible, the first being the credit union, around the coffee shop, and the building where Henderson Electric had been located.”

Councillor Shaffer said Northwood was looking to get approval, in principle, to opening up a location locally. “The members of the committee-council listened and afterward we had a discussion; every member of the committee and council agreed that maybe there was a need for this type of clinic and maybe Central Manitoulin could help, but that the credit union building was not an option.”

He further indicated that the committee-council recommended that Northwood reach out to the Manitoulin Central Family Health Team, “as we felt this was a logical place for a clinic to go. And we indicated there was no way we would support it in the credit union building.”

“We don’t support the location and did not pass a motion in principle; we asked them to provide more information and to reach out to the family health team,” said Councillor Shaffer. He said Northwood has not reached out to the municipality positively or negatively. 

Councillor Shaffer had asked the municipal clerk and building inspector and found that there is no requirement for a business to provide information on what their business operations would include. “Whether Northwood has leased the building, or moved in has not been made clear to us. They have not responded to any of our questions.”

Councillors Dale Scott and Angela Johnston also agreed that at the meeting with Northwood, there was consensus among the council-committee that the credit union would not be a suitable place for a clinic.

Councillor Shaffer said he had asked the building inspector and the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB) what business uses would be allowed in the credit union building. “To summarize the information, the building is designated core commercial so a clinic is not permitted unless an amendment to allow for a designation of industrial is given approval. They would have to apply for a zoning amendment on the building.”

Mayor Richard Stephens said the proponent for the business would have to apply for the building amendment to the MPB, which  would then ask for input from the municipality before a decision was made. And if the application is denied there is an appeal process as well. 

“What needs to be asked is what is allowed in a building in a core commercial zoned zone,” said Councillor Derek Stephens. “We should be asking this question: If a pharmacy is allowed and they are doing methadone injections in the pharmacy now, we are asking the wrong questions on what can be allowed in this building.” 

Councillor Shaffer said the committee has reached out to the MCFHT to find out where they stand on the issue and a representative will be providing an update at the committee’s September meeting. 

The meeting was also told MCFHT is organizing a meeting with Northwood and Dr. Suman Koka of the clinic in Mindemoya about possible plans. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: In reference to Councillor Stephen’s above quote, pharmacists do not inject methadone, nor is methadone an injectable drug. As well, the former clinic in downtown Little Current was not a rehab centre, but an opiate replacement therapy clinic, such as the one Northwood is proposing.