Advocates say detox centre move to city's edge puts people at risk

A plan to move one of Edmonton's two downtown detoxification centres to Alberta Hospital Edmonton indefinitely is troubling to some advocates for people dependent on drugs and alcohol.

AHS says there are benefits to moving treatment to far northeast hospital

AHS plans to move the Addiction Recovery Centre out of downtown Edmonton into Alberta Hospital on the northeast outskirts of the city. The organization says the construction of a new LRT line downtown will substantially affect clients. (Craig Ryan/CBC News)

A plan to move one of Edmonton's two downtown detoxification centres to Alberta Hospital Edmonton indefinitely is troubling to some advocates for people dependent on drugs and alcohol.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) says imminent construction of the west leg of the Valley Line LRT will have a negative effect on patient care at the Addiction Recovery Centre (ARC) at 103rd Avenue and 107th Street.

The city is building a new station steps away from the centre, where staff supervise and treat up to 38 people going through addiction withdrawal.

Although a statement from AHS said there are benefits to moving the service to the hospital in Edmonton's far northeast, advocates say they have grave concerns.

Angie Staines said she felt "absolute fear" when she heard of AHS's plans to relocate the service this fall.

Her son Brandon, 26, has been an opioid user for nine years. She's lost count of the number of times he's overdosed. She's tried to get him into ARC before, and says he was turned away every time due to lack of space.

Angie Staines' adult son Brandon, seen here as a baby on his first Halloween, is now 26 and has struggled with addiction for nine years. (Angie Staines/Submitted photo)

There's a daily one-hour window when potential clients can line up outside for assessment to see if they qualify for a bed.

She said it's illogical to move the service out of downtown, where vulnerable people and many of the agencies who serve them are located.

She said many clients would have no way to get to Alberta Hospital, which is north of 167 Avenue on 18th Street NW.

"It makes absolutely no sense," Staines said. "People will die because of this decision."

She said AHS leaders made the decision without consulting clients, families or employees.

"We need to meet these people where they are at," Staines said. "They are human beings. And frankly, I am sick and tired of my son's life not mattering because he is a drug user."

The George Spady Centre, about one kilometre from ARC's present site, also runs a 35-bed medical detox service.

An AHS statement says ARC takes both scheduled admissions and walk ins, and that many clients are transported to the centre by friends, family or organizations. Alberta Hospital also has shuttles the program could use.

Clients come from all over Edmonton and beyond city limits, AHS said — nearly a fifth are homeless.

The new space in Alberta Hospital's Building 12 would allow the program to run up to 55 detox beds on the same budget, give clients more privacy and permit more intake time flexibility, the statement said.

Stigma could deter clients from Alberta Hospital

An ARC employee who works with patients said there are also risks to the move. CBC is not identifying the employee for fear she will lose her job for speaking out.

Colleagues have used Naloxone kits while people were standing outside hoping to be accepted, she said.

"I can't tell you how many lives we've saved during those admission times."

Spaces in the ARC detox program are limited. People line up outside every day to see if they can be admitted to the program. (Craig Ryan/CBC News)

Although not a drop-in centre, ARC is a safe place people can turn to in a crisis, she said. People come to ask for blankets or for a staff member to call 9-1-1 during emergencies, she said.

Relocating the detox centre to a psychiatric hospital may also exacerbate the stigma of seeking help, she said.

"It's very frightening to think, 'They're sending me to a mental institution because I'm an alcoholic,'" she said. "Most people won't go."

AHS said the move is for an undetermined period of time. Construction on the west LRT line is expected to continue until 2026 or 2027. The organization's statement was also unclear about whether the service will return to its current site.

"AHS is conducting an analysis to determine future locations for this program," it said.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.