First Sask. rapid access addictions medicine clinic opens in Prince Albert

Jennifer Suchorab of the SHA speaks during the launch of Saksatchewan's first Rapid Access addictions Medicine (RAAM) clinic in Prince Albert on Nov. 29, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert is now home to the province’s first Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) Clinic.

The clinic provides quick access to specialized addictions treatment by a multi-disciplinary team made up of physicians, nurses and addictions counsellors to help people begin treatment. It connects individuals to services including ongoing treatments, mental health care and other community programs.

RAAM clinics have been established in other parts of Canada including Ontario and Manitoba. Those clinics have reduced emergency department visits, shortened wait times and improved outcomes for patients.

The province will establish two more of the clinics in the new year. The three clinics will cost about $1.6 million combined and were promised in the most recent provincial budget.

“We’re here to announce a new health service for people among us who are in crisis,” said Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave.

“This RAAM clinic will quickly connect people with the services and support that they need. Our government knows that addictions are a growing challenge in Prince Albert and across the province. I’m sure every one of us knows an individual or a family who has been affected by this curse.”

Prince Albert’s clinic opened on Nov. 1. It operates from Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with physicians available from 1 to 4 p.m. each day.

It’s located at Access Place for now, but will eventually move upstairs to 101 15th Street East.

 According to Dr. Francois Roussouw, one of the clinic’s five physicians, it’s already proven popular.

“Word is spreading,” he said. “(People) come to Access Place for something else and then people tell them there’s a clinic here that if you’re dealing with an addiction you can get help. That wasn’t always available. You provide them with housing or access to counselling and an open door, they feel welcome and that stigma is taken away.”

One problem the clinic hopes to help solve is the lack of care available when people need it.

“It allows us to give patents the opportunity when they’re ready for treatment to access treatment,” Roussouw said.

“A problem has been in the past that people are ready to deal with addiction, but there’s not a place that’s available for them to go. We hope this will expand that availability.”

Patients don’t need an appointment to attend the clinic. They can refer themselves, call, walk in or other care providers can refer them. All clients will be assessed for substance use disorder, provided trauma-informed short-term counselling around substance use and receive treatments for opioid use disorder including methadone and suboxone if they’re battling an opioid clinic or anti-craving medications for alcohol use disorder if they’re battling an alcohol addiction. They’ll also receive support to make appropriate connections to community partners for substance use, psychosocial or special support services and help to transition care to primary providers or connect patients to a primary care provider. The clinics also take a harm reduction approach, meaning clients will also be provided training surrounding safe consumption and overdose prevention. Take-home naloxone kits, which quickly work to reverse the effects of an overdose, will also be available.

“The idea of this clinic is you walk in and on that same day get an assessment by a multi-disciplinary team, get you into counselling straight away or get you a prescription that can help with withdrawal symptoms. From there, we … connect you with ongoing services outside of this clinic,” Roussouw explained.

In addition to five doctors who will each serve the clinics for three hours each week, patients will be assisted by a receptionist, nurse, mental health counsellor and peer support counsellor.

Prince Albert’s RAAM clinic opened first because the local health team was dedicated to getting it up and running as soon as they could.

“We joked it’s like a Nike project, just do it,” Roussouw said.

“We wanted to open as quickly as possible. We’re adjusting a few things and we can give advice to Regina and Saskatoon to make their opening even more patient-care specific.”

The clinic isn’t just serving Prince Albert residents. It has seen clients from outside of the city as well.

Roussouw has learned is to be ready for anything. He’s an emergency room physician and has worked in opioid recovery clinics. At RAAM, though, he’s not just facing opioid addiction.

“You have to prepare yourself for anything. A client of any addiction can present. We’re learning more about alcohol addiction and crystal meth, unfortunately, in Prince Albert, is a huge problem as well. We don’t have medications that can help people with that, but we’re gearing more towards counselling services and open access so that people can come.”

According to Jennifer Suchorab, the health authority’s director of mental health and addictions services for the northeast, the new clinic is only part of the picture.

“Part of our project work has included our community partners because helping people flow to the next step, we want to work together to make that as seamless a transition as possible,” she said.

“This service is on a continuum of care for addictions services and is a little more specialized. It’s really important to recognize that we have other community-based crisis services that can support that client until they get to the RAAM clinic service.”

Social Services critic and Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt welcomed the new clinic.

“It’s definitely good news to hear that Prince Albert is receiving additional services because we know the need for more addictions support is required in this community. We support any plans to help provide that,” she said.

Still, she has some concerns.

“I know that there have been significant cuts to programs or a lack of funding to a lot of the programs and services (in the community) and that has increased wait times for things like treatment beds, ongoing consistent counselling services and housing options. We know clients who will be accessing these services will require ongoing support.”

Rancourt called on the provincial government to ensure that those services operated by Community-Based Organizations have the resources they need.

“As a former frontline worker, I know how frustrating it is to work with individuals and know that the services they need in the community are difficult to attain,” she said.

“Although we do need rapid response because we know … if they can receive the services when they need it they’re more likely to complete treatment, but the concern is if the ongoing community supports will be available for them to access.”