For the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) of Kingston, Friday, Mar. 18, 2022 was a pivotal day. Robin Martin, Parliamentary Assistant to Health Minister Christine Elliott, announced alongside Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson and MPP Daryl Kramp (Hastings-Lennox and Addington) that the provincial government will be providing $4.6 million in funding to the organization.
Located at 661 Montreal Street, the ICH has been providing 24/7 services to vulnerable citizens with immediate needs, such as safety, food, and rest, as well as longer-term needs, such as addiction and mental health services. The ICH started out as a pilot project at Artillery Park in the summer of 2020, on the heels of a homelessness crisis and an opioid epidemic exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Kingston had provided funding to keep the ICH running until the end of March 2022; but, as Mayor Paterson expressed earlier this year, the millions of dollars the Hub needed to continue was beyond the City’s capacity.
Thanks to the provincial government, the ICH is now an officially-funded life-saving operation overseen by the HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) and in partnership with harm reduction and Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) offered by Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC).
“Quite frankly, I think caring for one another is probably the greatest thing that you can do,” said Kramp. “You have an operation such as the ICH that does exactly what’s best for people who’ve experienced challenges, those that have been suffering from mental illness, homelessness… This is why we are here today. [It’s] the responsibility of all levels of government to help those that don’t have the ability to help themselves.”
Robin Martin, Parliamentary Assistant to Health Minister Christine Elliott, announces funding
“Our government really is fully committed to supporting our most vulnerable citizens,” stated Martin on Friday morning, “and we recognize that these populations of people [experiencing homelessness and substance addiction] have had an increased risk of harm due to the [COVID-19] pandemic… That’s why I’m very pleased to announce today that our government is investing $4.6 million for the ongoing operation of Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub.”
“This funding will help allow those programs currently in place to continue to have the great work being done in integrated care, including providing services to those experiencing crises, whether they are longer-term or short-term, to make sure there are supports there while easing pressures on our emergency departments and hospital,” said Martin.
“The Hub is also working with the Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Ontario Health Team, working with providers and organizations across the spectrum of health and community care to ensure that health, mental health, and addictions resources are being provided and integrated with local services in the community,” added Martin. “These types of partnerships through the Ontario health teams are helping to build more integrated, person-centered care in our communities, ensuring that people have access to these services and supports that they need for treatment and recovery.”
Martin explained that supporting ICH “contributes to our roadmap to wellness, which our government put in place. [This is part of the] plan to build a connected and comprehensive mental health and addictions system” — something, Martin said, that we all realize the need for.
The Ontario Roadmap to Wellness is part of a $3.8 billion provincial investment into mental health and addictions services over 10 years. “Every person deserves to have safe and secure access to the supports that they need in the mental health and addiction setting,” said Martin. “We’re working with our local communities and our third-party partners to support critical mental health and addictions systems, [making them] more accessible, evidence-based, [and] person-centered, while continuing to respond to needs arising.”
Securement of funding a relief to ICH workers during time of crisis
ICH manager Ashley O’Brien emphasized the importance of Friday’s announcement. “It’s good news today, especially during a drug poisoning crisis. It’s very timely because people are dying… The opportunity to continue doing [our work] is absolutely essential. It’s huge.”
According to HARS Executive Director Gilles Charette, the ICH’s work has prevented over 600 cases of drug poisonings from becoming fatalities. “That’s significant in that it makes KFL&A one of only two jurisdictions that did not see an increase, in some cases a dramatic increase, in drug poisoning deaths,” said Charette in an earlier interview.
Dr. Piotr Olgaza, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health, put this statistic starkly in perspective at a meeting of the Board of Health (BOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. “In KFL&A, there were 42 opioid-related deaths in 2020 alone [outside the ICH’s purview]. Let’s compare that to the 31 COVID-19 deaths since March 2020 – over two years. So in one year, we had more opioid overdoses than [two years of] COVID-19 deaths combined.” This perspective highlights the importance of the work that the ICH is doing to prevent opioid-related injuries and deaths in the KFLA region.
“I want to take a moment to acknowledge the team at ICH,” concluded Mayor Paterson on Friday morning. “These are folks that work tirelessly. You guys are amazing. Thank you. This really is a team effort. The work you guys do as front line staff, day in and day out, [involves] challenging circumstances [and] situations, but you always show up and do your absolute best to keep our community safe. A big thank you, as well, to the province for partnering with us on this.”