Thunder Bay

Ontario commits nearly $4M for 34 addictions treatment beds in Thunder Bay

The province announced nearly $4 million on Monday, which will add 34 new addictions treatment beds in the city.

152 people died from drug-related deaths in Thunder Bay district in 2021

Michael Tibollo, Ontario's associate minister of mental health and addictions, announced $3.8 million for 34 addictions treatment beds in Thunder Bay. (Logan Turner/CBC)

After years of calls for help from Thunder Bay municipal leaders and service providers, the provincial government is committing funding for enhanced addictions treatments in the northwestern Ontario city.

On Monday, the province announced it's spending $3.8 million to create 34 new addictions treatment beds in Thunder Bay. The funding is temporary, lasting through March 2024.

Preliminary data from Ontario's chief coroner indicates there was a record number of people who died from drug-related causes in the Thunder Bay district in 2021, with 152 overdose deaths recorded, an increase of 50 per cent compared to 2020. 

Michael Tibollo, Ontario's associate minister of mental health and addictions, travelled to Thunder Bay for the morning announcement and said the region should not feel forgotten by the government.

"We're trying to build the continuum of care, and we're also looking to find ways of measuring what the outcomes are now," he said. 

"If they're not enough, then obviously we're going to have to go back and look to see how many more beds are needed. But right now, we can't manage unless we actually have the data that supports why we are doing what we're doing."

'The need is so great'

The funding will add 12 new beds at two sites operated by St. Joseph's Care Group, with 10 addictions treatment beds at the Sister Margaret Smith Centre, and two withdrawal management beds at the Balmoral Centre.

The Balmoral Centre, the city's only withdrawal management centre, has had to turn away more than 3,000 people per year due to capacity challenges. 

Dilico Anishinabek Family Care will operate the remaining 22 beds, with 20 residential treatment beds at a facility that's being developed, along with two withdrawal management beds.

"If you think about the number of people that those four [withdrawal management beds] will serve, that's hundreds of people. So whether or not that's enough, I would argue we could say it's never enough," said Nancy Black, the vice president of addictions and mental health for St. Joseph's Care Group. 

"The need is so great and it's growing each and every year," she said. "So we're doing our best with the resources we've got. This is a very important investment in terms of increasing the number of beds, and we'll make use of every single bed and every single dollar to the best of our ability." 

City leaders and service providers had submitted a proposal for a 40-bed crisis centre to the provincial government in 2020. The announcement on Monday does not advance that project.

"It's very difficult for us to find the capital dollars necessary to build locations, and the concern that we have is that we have the immediate need of helping people now," Tibollo said. 

"You can't help people now by projecting a building out five years, 10 years from now."

Tibollo is also expected to make an announcement in Sioux Lookout on Tuesday.

With files from Logan Turner