Province says new Selkirk rapid access clinic will help those struggling with addictions in Interlake

Manitoba's fifth RAAM —rapid access to addictions medicine — clinic has just opened in Selkirk, providing an option for residents in the Interlake-Eastern region seeking help for addictions.

Selkirk clinic is 5th RAAM clinic in Manitoba, joining 2 in Winnipeg, 1 each in Brandon and Thompson

Jeannie Red Eagle, a community service co-ordinator in Selkirk, says the new clinic will help people who have barriers to accessing addictions treatment. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Manitoba's health minister says the opening of a clinic in Selkirk will help people in the Interlake-Eastern region get help for addictions faster.

Manitoba's fifth RAAM — rapid access to addictions medicine — clinic officially opened in Selkirk on Wednesday.

"We know that in this community, and many others in Manitoba, people have used substances and we know that in some cases those substances begin to eclipse everything else," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said at a Wednesday press conference.

"It becomes a real problem for the individual, for those that love them, for the communities around them."

Earlier this year, the province announced its plan to open five RAAM clinics across the province in response to the Virgo report, which outlined a mental health and addictions strategy for Manitoba.

The first clinic opened in Winnipeg in August. In addition to the new Selkirk clinic, there are now two in Winnipeg, one in Brandon and one in Thompson. The Winnipeg and Brandon clinics are each open for two hours at a time on select days, while the Thompson clinic is open Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m.

The Selkirk clinic will be open Tuesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30.

'Pop-up' clinics 'too little, too late': opposition

RAAM clinics offer assessments, counselling, medications, and connections to community treatment programs and primary care physicians. No appointments or referrals are necessary to access services at the clinic.

Friesen said where in the past it could take months for those seeking addictions treatment to access those services, the new clinics help expedite the process.

"We are bringing resources around the patient," he said. "We are helping a patient more easily navigate the health-care system, which can be complex."

Since the first clinic opened, they have seen more than 340 patients access their services, the province said Wednesday.

In an emailed statement sent to CBC News on Wednesday, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said while he'd like to think the clinics will help, the limited hours and services offered at what he referred to as "pop-up clinics" aren't enough.

The approach "sends a clear message: this government is only pretending to care," the statement says. "Once again, politics trumps patient safety."

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called the government's response "too little, too late." Kinew said the hours aren't extensive enough.

"The window of opportunity to help someone get clean can be extremely narrow, and families know if their loved ones don't get treatment when they need it then it might be too late," Kinew said in a written statement.

"It's time the Pallister government take real action by investing in  greater numbers of treatment beds, detox centres and harm reduction families are asking for."

'There was nothing' in Selkirk: recovering addict

Jeannie Red Eagle, a community service co-ordinator for Selkirk's fine-options program, said she thinks the services that will be available at the RAAM clinic in Selkirk will be a great benefit to the community.

"I see a lot of people who are struggling, who have the barriers, where they can't access services," said Red Eagle, who also said she's struggled through her own addictions issues.

"When I was in my recovery, coming into my recovery, there wasn't anything like this.… I had to access other supports and a lot of that was on my own," she said.

Jeff Elder, who is recovering from an addiction to opioids, said the service is wonderful and he'd like to see hours expand. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Jeff Elder, who is recovering from an addiction to opioids and hasn't used for the past seven years, said it's wonderful the community will have the service, although he hopes to see the hours increase.

When he was 18 and seeking treatment for his addiction, he left Selkirk for Winnipeg and lived on the streets for a while to get services, because only people with Winnipeg addresses could get into the program he wanted to participate in. He felt he had no options in Selkirk. 

"There was nothing," Elder said Wednesday.

"They would tell you on the phone, 'It's going to be about three to four months before you can get into make an appointment.' That right there, it was just almost defeating. You almost want to say, 'Well, what's the point?'"

Counsellors, medical practitioners, nurses on staff

The clinic will be staffed with a specialized team of addictions counsellors, medical practitioners, and front-line nurses who will assess and treat the needs of patients, said Ben Fry, the executive director of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba.

"RAAM is a powerful example of the health system working together to respond quickly in innovative ways to address substance use issues that are well beyond what one organization could tackle," he said. 

Clinical teams at the rapid access clinics work directly with patients, and also support primary care providers with mentoring, reassessment and referral of patients.