Out in the cold

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February 11, 2016 8:32 AM

Teressa Krueckl, executive director of the Thorpe recovery Centre stands in one of the empty rooms offered by the rehab facility. The two provincial governments only fund seven of about 80 beds, while the rest go empty because the centre is forced to turn away three-quarters of the people seeking help.

Addicts turned away, despite dozens of empty beds

An incredible three out of every four addicts who call the Thorpe Recovery Centre for help are told they’re out of luck — despite the fact the facility has more 30 beds that remain unoccupied.
The organization runs a facility in Blackfoot, about 10 minutes outside Lloydminster,  and has been receiving plenty of calls for help, but simply can’t afford to take more people in.
It’s a situation that’s left the centre begging the provincial governments for more operational funding.
“We’d love to be able to maintain our rates and offer more funded beds, and we have the capacity to do it,” said Teressa Krueckl,  executive director of the Thorpe Centre.
“So our thing was, how about you (government) consider giving us more operational dollars?” she said. 
“If we had more operational dollars, we could lower the per diem rates and give that many more beds.”
The centre celebrated 40 years last fall and has been helping people with all sorts of addictions with various treatments since it opened it’s doors in 1975.
Right now there are only four beds funded by Alberta and three by Saskatchewan, all of which are in constant use and have average waiting lists that run from six to 10 weeks.
In total, Thorpe is 14 per cent funded by the provinces with eight per cent coming from Alberta and the rest from Saskatchewan.
The remaining beds are considered residential, and are used by clients who pay out of pocket to use them.
As of press time Tuesday, there were about 18 clients using residential beds.
This means on any given day there are about 30 residential beds open, but the doors remain locked and the beds empty.
“We’d love to open the doors and say, ‘We have all of these beds, come and let us help you,’” Krueckl said.
“But we have to cover the costs of having people here and thats the very difficult part for us.”
Krueckl added there is some misinformation about the centre floating through the community.
“A lot of people say, ‘You have this big building and a lot of people are in need — why don’t you do more?’
“We have so many fixed operational costs and opening the door and having people come in increases that — we just can’t afford it,” Krueckl said.
Drug addiction treatment has been shown to reduce associated health and social costs by far more than the cost of the treatment itself. Treatment is also much less expensive than its alternatives, such as incarcerating addicted persons.
For example, the average cost for 1 full year of methadone maintenance treatment is approximately $4,700 per patient, whereas 1 full year of imprisonment costs approximately $24,000 per person.
Indeed, drug addiction treatment reduces drug use and its associated health and social costs, says a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
In fact, according to several conservative estimates quoted by NIDA, every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.
When savings related to healthcare are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1.
The Thorpe Centre has been going through the process of getting more grant money from the Alberta government, but all that was put on hold pending a review on the province’s mental health services by Alberta Liberal leader Dr. David Swann.
Krueckl said she hasn’t gotten an update on the progress of that report, which was supposed to be released at the end of last year.
Swann submitted the report to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman on Dec. 23 and, according to health.alberta.ca, the release of the plan is expected in the coming weeks.
As for Saskatchewan, Krueckl said the centre tried reaching out to the Prairie North Health Region (PNHR) for some additional funding, but conversations closed down before they could happen.
According to Vikki Smart, vice president of primary health services at PNHR, the low economy has caused a time of restrained spending and the health region isn’t able to take on any new projects.
“There really isn’t a budget for anything further,” said Smart.
“In this day of fiscal restraint, there’s no funding for anything new that we could look at.”
Krueckl said she isn’t trying to slam anyone, but having the centre’s requests go unanswered is frustrating when it offers such a needed service.
“We’re grateful that Prairie North has continued to fund us — don’t get me wrong —  but again, I feel there’s so much more that we could offer our own community directly if there could just be some further funding in the area.”
Still, the demand for what the centre offers never dwindles: in the last five weeks alone, the Thorpe Centre received approximately 80 calls from people seeking funded treatment, but can only take in a quarter of that volume.
The only other option Thorpe can offer is the fee-for-service residential beds, with treatment costing $17,000 and then a further $350 a day for detox.
Krueckl said Thorpe is working with an organization in the community, trying to get to the point where people can make private donations to build bursary funds, but that will only help a little and doesn’t address the immediate concerns.
The organization can’t be named because the terms of agreement have yet to be signed.
People who can’t get a government funded bed and don’t have $17,000 in their pocket aren’t left with many options, but Krueckl said she does her best to point them in the right direction.
The facility has connections with other treatment centres in both provinces and it does its best to refer those who can’t get into Thorpe to other places that might be able to help.
“We try to work with each other and do those kinds of things; it’s just not fun,”  said Krueckl, who added the calls for help that can’t be addressed is distressing.
“Our numbers in January were horrific, like really scary.”

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