‘Folks will not die now’: Oshawa’s Again Door Mission well being clinic will get funds — for now

Nathan Gardner is happy that funding has been restored for health-care staff at the Back Door Mission primary care clinic, which has been serving people in crisis in downtown Oshawa during the COVID-19 pandemic. June 8, 2022

The Back Door Mission primary care clinic has its funding back for health care staff to serve people in crisis in downtown Oshawa — at least until the fall.

The clinic provides primary care to approximately 600 people who face chronic homelessness, mental health challenges and addictions. More than 300 people have started withdrawal management therapy and the clinic diverted more than a hundred visits from the emergency department in the past year.

“What many people don’t understand is that it costs us all more and has a more negative impact on our community to continue to ignore the needs of these individuals,” said Stephanie Skopyk, Clinic Lead and Nurse Practitioner for CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) Durham.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the downtown service hub assembled at the Back Door Mission (including the primary care clinic, addiction and mental health support) as a response to the crisis. The clinic operated with a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, and rotating doctors providing specialist care. This spring, there were at least nine agencies working together under one roof to serve the vulnerable population.

“It’s how we keep people away from crisis and how we try to move them to wellness,” said Coun. Derek Giberson.

There are at least 271 people who are currently experiencing homelessness in Durham and of those 167 have been homeless for six months or longer, according to a Durham Region Built for Zero report released in April — that’s up from December when there was 209 people experiencing homelessness and 122 of those had been homeless for six months or longer.

The number of actively homeless people has increased over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a surge in the number of homeless residents in late 2021, which continued to worsen into the spring of 2022.

On Monday, June 20, Ontario’s Big City Mayors — of which the City of Oshawa is a member — released a statement calling for an emergency joint meeting with the province to accelerate solutions to address chronic homelessness, mental health, safety, and addictions issues in communities.

“We are still working daily on how to address some of the complex challenges we’re facing in the downtown,” said Coun. Giberson.

The clinic is establishing a treatment continuum that improves access to pre-treatment, treatment and aftercare for homeless clients.

Funding for the clinic had been patchwork and finite, consisting mainly of emergency COVID relief. In April, the funding was unexpectedly discontinued.

“When Ontario Health mentioned they couldn’t continue our funding — which really, really caught us off-guard — there was a ton of local support: ‘What do we do, how do we help,’” said Nathan Gardner, executive director of the Back Door Mission. “We did everything we can possibly do to not let this die, so people didn’t get without basic health care.”

Still this spring, the funding was gone for the nurse and administrative assistants and there was a reduction of doctor service. The nurse practitioner continued on at the reduced downtown clinic.

“We’ve spent the past three months trying to maintain people on their medications including antipsychotic and withdrawal management to reduce overdoses, deaths and mental health crises in our streets with only one to two staff in the clinic most days. As a result of the interruption in funding that occurred, our daily volumes were halved and people were made to wait up to two hours to be seen by a health-care professional. That is not our model,” said Skopyk.

Oshawa’s MPP Jennifer French, and several local politicians, publicly asked the Ontario government to immediately restore funding for the Back Door Mission clinic and to provide sustainable health care funding for the future.

Ontario’s Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, Michael Tibollo, met with the local MPP and the Back Door Mission team.

“Minister Tibollo picked up the thread in question period. We put together a community meeting so fast to be able to continue the work. He has a real interest in the model,” said French.

In early June, temporary funding was reinstated to fund the clinic until Oct. 31. The Back Door Mission has until then to make a business case to secure permanent funding.

“People won’t die now that were going to. It’s that simple and important,’ said French.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: In June, Oshawa This Week learned funding has been temporarily reinstated for the Back Door Mission primary care clinic in downtown Oshawa.

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