Alcohol abuse clinic reducing return trips to Ottawa emergency rooms

A pilot project aimed at reducing the number of alcoholics who make return visits to Ottawa hospital emergency rooms is showing some promising results halfway into its mandate.

Pilot project aims to reduce return visits to emergency rooms by alcohol-addicted patients

Dr. Kim Corace is director of clinical programming and research in the substance abuse and disorders program at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre.

A pilot project aimed at reducing the number of alcoholics who make return visits to Ottawa hospital emergency rooms is showing some promising results halfway into its mandate.

The Alcohol Medical Intervention Clinic (AMIC), located at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, was established in May 2016 as a two-year pilot project with a different approach to the treatment of alcohol abuse.

Dr. Kim Corace, director of the Royal's substance abuse and disorders program, said the Royal teamed up with the Ottawa Hospital for the pilot.

Over the past year the hospital has referred 250 to 300 people to the program, and Corace said 60 per cent have followed through with treatment.

"All of them have an alcohol problem," she said. "But the vast majority, nearly 80 per cent, actually have a significant alcohol problem.

"And that means they are drinking throughout the day, they are having cravings, they are having symptoms of withdrawal. It's impacting their functioning, their ability to work, their ability to take care of their families."

'The most serious ones'

AMIC is a unique public outpatient clinic set up to specifically treat people who are repeat visitors to emergency rooms because of alcohol-related medical conditions and injuries.

This group of patients covers all segments of society. Very few of them are homeless.

Dr. Eric Clark, an emergency room doctor at the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital, said the patients often become familiar faces because they keep coming back, often multiple times within the same month.

"You name it, people will do it when they are intoxicated or under the influence," said Clark, who said alcohol-related injuries may stem from road accidents, falls, fights and other mishaps.
The Alcohol Medical Intervention Clinic is located at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

People often arrive at the clinic by taxi or are brought in by family members to receive the services of a team of alcohol treatment specialists.

Anti-craving medication may be given to people suffering from withdrawal symptoms, which Corace said can be so severe as to be life-threatening.

Reducing return ER visits

Corace said the clinic has had a measurable effect, cutting down on repeat emergency room visits by individual patients within a 30-day period by 13 per cent.

"We've been able to show that clients who are served by the Alcohol Medical Intervention Clinic demonstrate reduced alcohol use, demonstrate improvements in mental health, including their anxiety and depression," she said.  
Dr. Eric Clark is an emergency room doctor at the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital

Clark said the program has become a "tremendous resource" for those working in the emergency room.

"People are very happy to find out about this new resource. They can go there quickly and get access to all kind of very good help for what is really an awful problem," said Clark.

"This is a complicated, long-term problem that we can't fix in the emergency room in one visit."

According to the Royal, the clinic costs $430,000 a year to operate. The pilot project is entering its second year, and Corace said she hopes it becomes permanent.