Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay, Ont., overdose-prevention site receives permanent funding

Thunder Bay's overdose-provention site will expand under newly-announced permanent provincial funding, the CEO of NorWest Community Health Centres (NWCHC) says.

Site one of 15 in Ontario chosen to remain operating under new model

Juanita Lawson is the CEO of NorWest Community Health Centres, which runs Thunder Bay's overdose-prevention site. The site was announced as one of 15 in Ontario that will receive permanent funding from the province. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Thunder Bay's overdose-prevention site will expand under newly-announced permanent provincial funding, the CEO of NorWest Community Health Centres (NWCHC) says.

The Thunder Bay site — which is operated by NWCHC — received word on Friday that it would be one of 15 in the province that will be permanently funded under the province's new Consumption and Treatment Services model.

"We've all been waiting," said NWCHC CEO Juanita Lawson. "All the sites that were operating under a temporary overdose prevention site approval were waiting for this, as our funding was going to run out as of March 31."

The exact amount of funding that's being provided wasn't available on the weekend, as Lawson said she hadn't received the total from the government as yet.

Expanded hours

However, with permanent funding secured, Lawson said the local site will look to grow.

"We'll be more engaged in working with our community," she said, adding the site will be expanding its hours, as well.

"Right now, we're ... open Monday to Friday, but we'll be actually moving towards a seven-day model and have hours beyond four-thirty," she said. "So we'll be able to work with our community and provide expanded services."

Lawson said the site provides a safe place for people to use illicit drugs while being supervised by a nurse and a harm-reduction worker.

"If they have any bad reaction, or if there's something tainted in the drug supply, they ... have nursing staff there and a harm reduction worker to support them if they potentially overdose," she said.

There is more to the site than that, however. It also provides access to other types of care that they may not otherwise have access to, Lawson said. That could include vaccinations, primary medical care, mental health and addictions services, or harm reduction education.

In Friday's announcement, the government also said it will accept applications for more overdose-prevention sites in Ontario.

"Having more sites would be important given the geography of Thunder Bay, and the lack of access to transportation and our weather, and those types of things," Lawson said. "But we're going to start with this, and we will make it work, and we're really happy we're going to be able to stabilize it and do some more engagement with individuals that we know we need to connect with."