The government of Manitoba is spending about $893,000 on a new Indigenous-led rapid access to addictions medicine (RAAM) clinic in downtown Winnipeg, making it the third in the provincial capital.
It will offer culturally relevant and safe programming to people looking for help, with doctors, counselors and withdrawal supports.
Elder Billie Schibler and her friend interrupted the government announcement at a news conference Tuesday to express their gratitude.
“My spirit soars. I almost lost two sons through addictions in this city who waited and waited and waited to try to get into the RAAM clinics,” Schibler said during the announcement.
The clinic will be in the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Center on Higgins Avenue and will operate five days a week, with some extended hours in the late afternoons and early evenings to increase accessibility, Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard said.
Schibler says she’s supported others on their addictions journeys and had to go to the emergency room because there weren’t any other supports available at the time.
“You can be sitting there seven to eight hours only to be turned away … and that glimmer of hope suddenly just gets snuffed right out. I’ve seen too many young people that have lost their lives,” Schibler said in an interview after the announcement.
The new clinic is giving her back some hope.
“I’m optimistic that there’s enough of an understanding of the needs of Indigenous people out there that can be serviced in a good way through the RAAM centre.”
She’s not the only one who feels relief.
“I see people get turned away every single day due to lack of resources. Another clinic is going to mean more people will get in, less people will be turned away and more lives will be saved,” peer support worker Britney Easter said Tuesday.
“I have been in your shoes and it is hard,” she said, directing her comments to those who need care. “Some days you don’t think you’re going to make it through. I want you to know that there is support and people who care.”
Dr. Camisha Mayes, a rapid access to addictions medicine physician in Winnipeg, says people with substance use disorders need timely, targeted treatments for their problems, just as people with diabetes, asthma and other chronic conditions do when their conditions get out of hand.
“Having access to low barrier and timely health-care services is incredibly important in supporting individuals in their health-care journey. RAAM clinics are designed to do just that,” Mayes said at the news conference.
The existing rapid access to addictions medicine clinics turn people away daily, she said.
“The demand outweighs the supply that’s currently available in regards to the resources.… Adding another clinic was shown as a need, and hopefully this will be the beginning of many more clinics to come,” Mayes said.
When the clinic opens in spring, it will initially handle to 2,300 patient visits per year, with the potential to expand its capacity in the future, Guillemard said.
Further details will be announced closer to the opening, she said.
The new facility will be the seventh rapid access to addictions medicine clinic in Manitoba and the third in Winnipeg. The other clinics are in Brandon, Thompson, Portage la Prairie and Selkirk.
Bernadette Smith, the NDP critic for mental health and addictions, says the current government’s strategy for dealing with substance use disorders lacks an important piece.
“The health experts are clear: we need a real plan that includes a supervised consumption site and better access to health care and supports for Manitobans struggling with addiction,” Smith said in a statement.