New Brunswick

Nursing shortage closes detox centre in Saint John

The Horizon Health Network has had to close its detox facilities at Ridgewood Addiction Services because of a continuing nursing shortage. 

Bedbugs also detected at Ridgewood Addiction Services centre

Ridgewood Addiction Services provides a range of services, including in-patient detoxification from alcohol and drugs. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Horizon Health Network has had to close its detoxification centre at Ridgewood Addiction Services in Saint John because of a continuing nursing shortage. 

"During this temporary closure, all detox clients/patients will be directed to a Horizon facility in either Moncton, Fredericton or Miramichi," according to a news release Friday from the Horizon Health Network.

"We are committed to reopening the Saint John detox unit as soon as we are safely able to do so."

Although there was no mention of it in the news release, bedbugs were also detected at the centre. Horizon spokesperson Kris McDavid said a pest control company has been hired to get rid of the bugs. 

Diane Kerns, the harm-reduction co-ordinator with Avenue B in Saint John, is concerned about how the closure will affect wait times for those looking for help. 

She said the wait was already "days — even weeks" to get a detox bed at Ridgewood. 

Diane Kerns, the harm-reduction program co-ordinator with Avenue B in Saint John, is worried the temporary closure of Ridgewood's detox centre will make the already-long wait times even longer. (CBC)

With a finite number of beds at the Miramichi, Fredericton and Moncton units, Kerns worries the wait will only get longer.

Ridgewood Addiction Services provides a range of services, including in-patient detoxification from alcohol and drugs, and a four-week residential recovery program for those who need continuing support, according to Horizon's website. 

Kerns is also concerned there's no reopening date, so it's unclear how long the wait-time will continue to snowball. 

"It's definitely a concern with all of the substance use that we see and people living with substance-use disorder in our community and in surrounding areas. It is a concern that we at least don't have some projection of when that might be permanently resolved."

Kerns said there's already a shortage of detox beds around the province and a longer-than-optimal wait time. She said when a person decides to seek help for a drug addiction, time is often of the essence. 

"We don't want to lose that opportunity because when somebody decides that they are ready to make a change, we want to support that, encourage that. Because then it could be days, weeks, months before they might make that same decision again."

Ridgewood Addiction Services' detoxification centre in Saint John. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Kerns said she would have liked Horizon's announcement to specify that beds in the other three locations would be specifically allocated to those coming from Saint John, "so that Saint John people are not having to fall in the queue behind people who are already wait-listed within their area."

People should not try to handle detox on their own, Kerns said.

"There are some very serious health consequences, even death, if somebody is in severe withdrawal and it's not handled appropriately."

The news release from Horizon said officials "will explore options for patients/clients who require assistance to travel to another detox centre."

It also said staff members working at the facility will be "temporarily reassigned to other duties within Horizon's Addiction and Mental Health Services in Saint John."

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, was asked for comment on Friday afternoon, but did not respond by publication time. 

Bedbugs also detected

Although no timeframe is mentioned in the release, the presence of bedbugs means at least a two-week closure according to pest control experts. 

Typically, because of the egg cycle of bedbugs, two treatments are required about two weeks apart, said Adam Steeves, the owner of Fredericton-based Adams Pest Control.

He said bedbugs are particularly difficult to get rid of.

close up of bed bug
Bedbugs were detected at Ridgewood Addiction Service's detox centre in Saint John. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

"Their ability to survive without feeding off anything for over a year creates a big problem," he said. 

So does their ability to hide in the tiniest of places. 

Feed on human blood at night

Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of people and animals while they sleep, according to the government of Canada's website

They can't fly or jump, but "are easily moved from room to room on infested objects."

Adults can be as long as 10 millimetres and have an oval, broad, flat body and a short, broad head. 

"Bedbug eggs are white, about one millimetre long, and are almost impossible to see on most surfaces," according to the website. 

"The female bedbug lays at least 200 eggs in her lifetime, at a rate of about two to four each day. The eggs have a sticky coating and are laid in cracks and crevices, behind woodwork and other hidden locations. They usually hatch in 6 to 17 days."

Bedbug bites

Bedbugs don't spread disease, and people bitten by them usually don't require medical attention.

Mike Heimbach of Abell Pest Control said bedbugs are old insects.

"They're one of the number one pests that people contact us about," he said. 

Bedbugs come out at night to "feed off blood — their primary host is humans. They prefer humans over anything else."

Bed bugs like to hide in the crevices of mattresses and box springs.

Heimbach said bedbugs are attracted by the carbon dioxide in our breath, which is why bites often occur on the face. 

"They'll feed on you just like a mosquito. They'll inject their beak into you, and you won't feel that and they'll take their fill and then they'll go back and hide where they hide." 

And they can hide pretty much anywhere, he said. Clock radios, nightstands, behind picture frames, in electrical outlets. 

Heimbach said the most common place to find them is along the mattress seam at the head of a bed. 

Traces of them can also be detected — specks of blood on the sheets, or "a bunch of crumbly black stuff" which are skin casts and feces. 

Developed resistance to chemicals

Bedbugs have also developed a resistance to the chemicals used to kill them, so exterminators have had to tweak their approach, said Steeves. 

He said his company uses a different chemical on the followup visit. 

But unless they're killed, bedbugs can remain dormant for a long time. Steeves said some property owners have tried putting belongings into storage for several months, in the hope that the bugs and babies will die off. But bedbugs can easily survive that period, he said. 


Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at