Finding refuge from addiction at Humber River Regional Hospital

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Eating a balanced diet, writing a daily journal and exercising regularly are activities that Kevin can’t imagine living without these days. But that wasn’t the case five months ago.

“I was so intoxicated last May when I was rushed by ambulance to Humber River Regional Hospital… that there was nothing I could do to revive myself. I didn’t hold out much hope,” said Kevin, a 55-year-old teacher, currently on leave from a Toronto School Board, who asked not to be identified by his last name.

Thanks to the unique multidisciplinary team in the Mental Health and Addiction Program at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto and the support of his family, Kevin has a new outlook on life and effective tools to cope with his lengthy addiction to alcohol.

“Since 1980 I have been to nine treatment centres, but this time there is a difference. It’s a welcoming feeling to come to Humber River. With these people I can expose the good, the bad and the ugly and I’m not thought any less of. There is a level of satisfaction with my own self which I haven’t had in years,” he exclaimed.

Humber River’s Chemical Dependency Assessment and Treatment Program has been caring for patients since 1993; but in the last several years, the program has made some important changes – changes that are producing a lot of positive results.

“Before we used to focus on promoting and teaching abstinence – which is obviously the best outcome – but we were somewhat rigid in our approach,” said Dr. Ivan Perusco, a Humber River Physician Leader and General Practitioner specializing in addiction. “In the last several years, our philosophy has shifted and we do our best to help patients in any way we can. We assess every patient that walks in here on an individual basis and we create a program that works specifically for them. If abstinence is a stretch, we still work with the patient and we still support them one hundred per cent.”

For Humber River, part of making individual patient needs a priority means having a versatile team that can deal with a variety of illnesses and juggle the complexities that accompany different disorders.

“Our program is unique because we provide a full continuum of care. We assess our patients and provide them with the appropriate treatment and follow up. We also effectively treat concurrent disorders,” said Dr. Perusco. “From physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, counsellors and social workers to occupational therapists, dieticians, pharmacists and chaplaincy services, we make integrated care a priority and rely on internal referrals – with minimal wait times – and a team-based approach to provide the highest quality of care to our patients,” he said.

This integration was really important for someone like Kevin. Upon his arrival at the Humber River program in May he was an inpatient in the medical detoxification ward for two weeks before being transferred to the outpatient program.

“When I walked out of here I was terrified. I dreaded it,” he said. “But just because you’re released doesn’t mean the relationship ends. It’s just the beginning if you’re willing to accept the services Humber River can offer you.”

Those services include a valuable pre-treatment program during the assessment phase and an after-care program – run by volunteers with a history of addiction – both of which strongly reflect Humber River’s continuity of care philosophy.

The diversity in services doesn’t exist within the hospital alone. Humber River has a strong connection to the community, and offers a long list of educational programs and sessions, including Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the hospital. Humber River continues to encourage patients to develop relationships outside of the hospital setting.

“Through my drinking, I lost so many friendships with colleagues. Now, after all those years of isolation, I have to learn how to socialize again. Humber River is teaching me the tools I need to function outside and helping me to reconnect with the community,” said Kevin.

“We never give up on a patient,” added Dr. Perusco. “Once you are here, you are always welcome to come back.”

For someone like Kevin, the open door policy is not only a relief, it provides him with the encouragement to maintain his sobriety.

“In the last three months I’ve come leaps and bounds. It’s the genuine personal caring touch of these people and this place that reaches to your heart of hearts. I never thought I could ever be this comfortable in my own skin.”