Kingston Council approves ‘temporary funding’ for Integrated Care Hub

Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub, located at 661 Montreal Street. Image via Google Street View.

The Tuesday, May 7, 2024 meeting of Kingston City Council called on councillors to make a number of important decisions, not the least of which would determine the immediate future of a well-used service provider that not only connects some of the city’s most vulnerable populations with much-needed supports, but also saves lives on a daily basis: the Integrated Care Hub (ICH).

At the meeting, Council received a report from Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle, entitled ‘Integrated Care Hub – 2024/2025 Temporary Funding.’ The report recommended that Council approve “a 2024 contribution of $500,000” towards the operation of the ICH. That funding, the report outlines, would be used one of two ways: 1. To support ICH operations over 2024, or, 2. To support “wind down activities.” Option 2 would be the default plan should year-long funding not be received through the funding application from the ICH that is currently with the Ministry of Health, the report outlined.

According to the report, the total budget for the ICH is approximately $3 million per year. Kingstonist readers may recall that the ICH opened in its current location in fall 2020 and provides medical, addiction, mental health, food, and support services (or connections to them), as well as consumption treatment services (CTS), sometimes referred to as ‘safe injection sites,’ ‘supervised consumption sites,’ or ‘harm reduction services.’ The demand for ICH services in Kingston exceeded capacity prior to its relocation to 661 Montreal Street, and the site has reversed hundreds of overdoses since that time.

The report before Council explained the Hub’s services in the following statement:

“The ICH provides 24/7 low barrier and wrap around services for vulnerable populations which includes meals, harm reduction, supportive counselling, rest zones, personal storage, laundry facilities and washrooms/showers. It can accommodate approximately 50 people in the rest zones and serves hundreds of people on a weekly basis.”

The report from CAO Hurdle to Council detailed that the yearly $2.3 million in funding from the Ministry of Health for the ICH expired on March 31, 2024. Addiction and Mental Health Services – Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (AMHS-KFLA) oversees the operations of the ICH and “recently received temporary funding to support operations until June 30, 2024,” according to the report. This temporary funding is to support operations while the Ministry “reviews potential for longer term funding,” the report stated.

“Staff are recommending that $500,000 from the Homelessness and Housing Reserve be allocated to support the ICH in 2024,” the report read.

Importantly, the report noted that while the ICH and CTS services are co-located at 661 Montreal Street, the two are “separate services operated by separate organizations.”

“This report is not recommending funding to the CTS,” CAO Hurdle wrote in the report.

Kingstonist has reached out to AMHS-KFLA, as there was a widespread assumption that it oversaw all operations at the ICH, including CTS.

That discrepancy notwithstanding, Council received a delegation from Carol Ravnaas, Executive Director of Client Services with AMHS-KFLA. Ravnaas spoke with evident passion as she addressed Council.

“I would… like to acknowledge your City staff and the City of Kingston for your unwavering support of the Integrated Care Hub. Your funding since its beginning has been needed, and is still needed, and makes a huge difference,” Ravnaas began.

Ravnaas went on to point out this funding would “continue” the City’s $500,000 “annual support” for the ICH, which has been provided for the past two years. That funding, she said, has been “used primarily for the overnight sleep portion of this service.” Funding from the City of Kingston represents 16 per cent of the total ICH budget, with primary funding coming from Ontario Health East (provincial) and the Ministry of Health (federal), Ravnaas explained. She noted that those with the ICH are “very optimistic of further funding” from the Ministry of Health.

She then turned her attention to what the ICH actually provides for residents in Kingston: “24/7 low-barrier and wraparound services for vulnerable populations.” Ravnaas shared five highlights from the ICH’s operations over the past year, which Kingstonist has condensed into the following list:

  1. Service provided to 470 different people. This was an average of 240 individuals per month, and approximately 100 individuals per day.
  2. Connection to care: 268 people were connected with addictions and mental health services alone, and they received over 2,300 intervention sessions; 231 individuals were referred to Kingston Home Base Housing with “active use” of the City of Kingston’s “by-names list” (a list of those currently unhoused living within the City).
  3. Sleeping accommodation for an average of 45 to 48 individuals per night, a “crucial part of the program” that would be “at risk” without funding from the City, as AMHS-KFLA is not able to use provincial or federal health funding for shelter-related costs.

    “Undoubtedly, [the lack of these sleeping accommodations] would lead to increased encampments, increased unhoused individuals on the street, and additional strain on emergency services, not to forget the impact on the 45 to 48 individuals without a bed each night,” Ravnaas observed of her third point.
  4. In the last fiscal year, there were 971 instances of “ED diversion,” which refers to incidents where ICH services/intervention meant an ambulance or hospital emergency department (ED) wasn’t used. There were also 574 police diversions, meaning 574 times where police did not need to attend an incident because ICH staff were able to “redirect or de-escalate.”

    “This approach is not only more compassionate, but more cost effective. To place it in a financial argument, the investment of $500,000 is significantly less than what the services would cost if provided by ambulance, police, fire, or the emergency department during the overnight hours when the ICH would be closed [without the proposed funding from the City],” Ravnaas explained.
  5. Meals every day, and 5,000 uses of shower and laundry facilities.

“These are things that many of us take for granted. But think of what your life would be like without these essential aspects readily available,” Ravnaas said of her final point.

Emphasizing that the ICH focuses on providing “a safe place where people can access care,” Ravnaas noted that many of the people the ICH serves have experienced significant trauma.

“And by trauma I mean they have experienced abuse [and] neglect; they often come from fractured families and have mental health or substance use challenges. It is not easy for them to find themselves in this situation, or to ask for help,” she said.

“The journey to recovery is a gradual process that requires time, patience, and support. Together we have showed that the integrated services like the ICH have an important impact on people and the system.”

Ravnass conveyed  that, throughout the journey that has been the City’s implementation of the ICH, “it’s safe to say that we all find the situation overwhelming at times. The number of individuals, the complexity of their care, the increasing dangerous drugs, the lack of both treatment options and housing are all real challenges.”

“However, these are fellow citizens. And it’s crucial that we work together to continue to provide a comprehensive response,” she concluded, noting she was “hopeful” for the City’s continued support.

When the Council agenda eventually made it to the report in question, Ravnaas did not have to hold out hope for long. Councillor Brandon Tozzo of Kingscourt-Rideau District was the only member of Council to ask questions of City staff.

“Do we have any idea when the province is going to decide on funding beyond the point that’s in the report?” he asked.

Jennifer Campbell, Commissioner of Community Services for the City, responded that City staff “certainly hope” that decision is made before the temporary funding being proposed would run out.” She noted that AMHS-KFLA, City staff, and “the consortium of partners” have been “waiting for quite a while”: the application for the funding was first submitted to the Ministry of Health in spring 2023, she said.

With that, Mayor Bryan Paterson called the vote, which saw Kingston City Council unanimously approve the recommendation from the CAO to provide $500,000 in “temporary” or “wind-down” funding for the ICH.

Kingstonist reached out to various organizations throughout the day on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, attempting to find a contact with the ICH who could clarify which organizations provide which services through the ICH, and to get a response to Council’s decision. No response was received by time of publication.

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