The GNWT will continue supporting the managed alcohol program (MAP) at the Spruce Bough, previously known as the Arnica Inn, until at least September.

Health Minister Julie Green updated the legislative assembly Wednesday in discussion with Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson.

The Spruce Bough has been hosting the MAP initiative since May. It also includes accommodating 30 people who are isolating as part of the GNWT’s Covid-19 response. It was moved from the Day Centre and Sobering Centre. The Spruce Bough is operated by the Yellowknife Women’s Society and the GNWT.

A total of $1,881,160 was budgeted for the current agreement of the initiative running from May 2020 to March 31, 2021, said Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) spokesperson Damien Healy.

The voluntary program started in April to support vulnerable individuals isolating at the 50 Street facility during the Covid-19 lockdown.

A “small portion” of the 30 people are being provided with managed alcohol, Healy said.

Future funding options

“The Department (of HSS) has renewed funding with the Spruce Bough until the end of September, 2021,” Green said.

“The idea is that in the next six or seven months the department will work with the Yellowknife Women’s Society to explore options to continue this program once the pandemic funding expires.”

While she didn’t give specifics on the continuation of MAP into 2022, she said her department has a mandate priority to establish that program in the NWT and it is exploring options to make it a reality.

In a speech on Feb. 12, she said the GNWT is working on developing its NWT Alcohol Strategy, which aims to reduce alcohol-related harms.

Lasting program needed

Johnson raised concern about MAP’s longevity due to the fact that it’s supported through Covid-19 relief funding and not through HSS’ operations budget.

“I want dedicated funding and wraparound services to be a legacy of this pandemic,” he said. “Data shows that we must look beyond housing and have a combined approach that tackles housing, mental health and addictions. If we make it to 75 per cent vaccination rates, we can’t lose the progress we’ve made just because one public health crisis is over but another rages on.”

Green explained that MAP started out as a way to avoid “doubling the problem” when people were isolating and also in alcohol withdrawal.

Individuals staying at Aspen Apartments in Yellowknife can also be provided with managed alcohol if necessary, but Green said that facility is intended more for people isolating or waiting for Covid-19 test results.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson asked that funding for the managed alcohol program continue after the Covid-19 pandemic is finished. GNWT image

Measuring the effectiveness of MAP

Information continues to be gathered on how the MAP is progressing and whether it’s reaching the goals of reducing the number of hospitalizations related to alcohol use, Green said.

The Stanton Territorial Hospital is responsible for collecting this data.

“HSS works with all locations where managed alcohol programs are provided to gather lessons learned,” Green said. “Information is being gathered in interviews with providers and users. They’re asked what worked and what didn’t work and how we can do better for a managed alcohol program. We expect that data to be analyzed in the spring.

“The test is whether this program has been effective. We want to see if the program is worth continuing,” Green said.

Last May, just a month into the MAP at the Day Centre and Sobering Centre, the NWT Disabilities Council noted that program recipients were drinking less alcohol and feeling better than before.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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