Indigenous-led RAAM clinic to open doors to downtown community
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The opening of an Indigenous-run Rapid Access to Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic on Higgins Avenue is being hailed as a change maker, amid a drug crisis in Winnipeg.
It will be the city’s third such clinic, which will be run by the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre in the former train station near Thunderbird House.
The centre already provides health care, social services and housing supports to Indigenous people, who are disproportionately affected by addiction, research director Monica Cyr said Tuesday at a news conference.
When the wellness centre learned last year of an opportunity to add a RAAM clinic, “we certainly jumped all over it.”
“We expect this new clinic, once it opens in the early spring, will be a change maker for our community,” Cyr said.
It’s expected to handle 2,300 patient visits per year.
“It’s not enough,” but it’s a start, Cyr said.
“I think what we’re going to do is prove that more is needed. We know the population in Winnipeg has the highest concentration of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Will one Indigenous-led RAAM clinic do it? No. Are we going to give it our best shot? Absolutely.
“Are we going to track accordingly and show the needed is greater? We know we will.”
The provincial government announced $893,000 for the RAAM clinic to offer culturally safe and relevant programming five days a week, Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard said Tuesday.
Manitoba currently has six RAAM clinics, including two in Winnipeg. Since opening four years ago, they’ve served 7,000 people. However, the clinics haven’t kept up with growing demand.
“Sadly, I see people get turned away every day due to a lack of resources,” said Britney Easter, who battled addiction before becoming a psychiatric nurse and RAAM clinic peer support worker.
“The number of individuals battling addictions has skyrocketed over the last two years and the number of people dying is devastating. Another clinic is going to mean more people will get in, less people will be turned away, and more lives would be saved.”
The number of Manitoba overdose deaths in 2022 has not yet been released.
Although the province has refused to support supervised consumption sites for those not ready to seek addictions treatment, the Indigenous-led health centre supports such harm-reduction measures.
“We absolutely support managed alcohol programs, including safe injections sites,” Cyr said. “However, today’s focus is the exciting news of the RAAM clinic.”
Dr. Camisha Mayes, a RAAM physician and medical lead at the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre, said as with other chronic health conditions such as hypertension, asthma and diabetes, having access to low-barrier and timely health-care services is important for treating people with addictions.
“Our site will open another door for our community to get connected to the care they’re looking for,” Mayes said.
The Opposition NDP said Manitobans struggling with addiction need supervised consumption sites and better access to health care.
“After seven years of (Tory) cuts, the need for services is overwhelming and it’s life or death when people are turned away because of limited hours,” NDP mental health and addictions critic Bernadette Smith said in prepared statement.
“I almost lost two sons through addictions in this city who waited and waited and waited to try to get into the RAAM clinics, and so many times they were turned away,” Indigenous elder Billie Schibler said at Tuesday’s news conference, expressing gratitude for more capacity in the system.
Belinda Vandenbroeck, who has battled addiction, stressed the need for the new RAAM clinic to be loving and honest about the true history of Indigenous people and the impact of colonization.
“I really do need to know you will be hiring Indigenous people who know their culture and language, thinking, and ways of being,” the elder said. “That’s very important.”
The Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre runs 13 programs, 85 per cent of those who work there are Indigenous and several speak Anishinaabe, Cree, Michif and sign language, Cyr said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 2:17 PM CST: Adds full form of RAAM in lede for clarity