Those living with eating disorders in southeastern Ontario will soon have access to a new treatment program – the first of its kind – thanks to provincial funding.
Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) will receive $1 million in new funding through Ontario Health, the organization announced on Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2022. The funding will expand treatment for eating disorders available through KHSC, offering “a critical layer of mental health care that is a first for Southeastern Ontario,” in the form of a day treatment program. The new provincial “base funding” aims to develop a treatment program for transitional aged youth (ages 16 through 24) who have moderate-to-severe eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. These patients, KHSC said, “do not require hospitalization but do need more intensive services than those provided by traditional outpatient clinic appointments.”
“A day treatment program can provide daily therapy sessions while also allowing patients and their families to maintain and practice social relations and coping skills closer to home, such as excursions supporting meal challenges and nutrition education in the community setting,” the organization said, noting that the KHSC day program will treat up to 10 patients at a time with support from a multidisciplinary care team including a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse practitioner, social worker, and dietitian.
“This investment meets a critical need,” said Nicholas Axas, Program Operational Director of the Mental Health and Addiction Care program at KHSC. “In Southeastern Ontario, we currently only offer inpatient and outpatient services, with no treatment layer in between. Day treatment can help prevent a hospital stay and also allow for a smoother transition out of hospital for those admitted for medical stabilization.”
Axas shared that eating disorders have only grown in prevalence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including locally, where KHSC saw a 50 per cent increase in referrals to its adult, child, and adolescent eating disorder programs last year alone.
“The isolation and heightened anxiety brought on by the pandemic have surely helped to trigger this jump in referrals,” said Dr. Nishardi Waidyaratne-Wijeratne, a psychiatrist in KHSC’s adult outpatient eating disorders program. “We’re also seeing an increase in complexity and severity of eating disorders.”
Dr. Waidyaratne-Wijeratne said that eating disorders are intricate conditions, making them complicated to treat, and that “best practice includes a stepped-care approach to treatment providing differing levels of interventions—hospital admission, day treatment services and outpatient programs—based on individual needs.”
“We’re grateful for these resources that will help us to provide a broader spectrum of care for those living with eating disorders,” said Dr. David Pichora, KHSC President and CEO, in a statement. “We know that a community-based day program has long been a dream for mental health care providers at KHSC, and we’re excited to see this new level of investment in mental health care in the southeast.”
KHSC is the largest acute care academic hospital in the region – consisting of Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu Hospital, the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario, and two research facilities – and is fully affiliated with Queen’s University.