Partnership Improves Access to Mental Health and Addictions Services

Posted February 06 2018 07:40am

January 31, 2018 - Sault Area Hospital (SAH), in partnership with Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Algoma Family Services (AFS), Algoma Public Health (APH) and John Howard Society (JHS) is pleased to celebrate the second anniversary of our community’s Walk-In Counselling Service at 386 Queen Street East.

This service provides counselling to individuals, couples and families of all ages and groups on a walk-in basis and staff are available to assist with any single or more complex issues. “Our collaboration on launching this service was a catalyst for our organizations working together to provide much-needed timely access to counselling services in our community,” says Lisa Case, Patient Care Manager, Outpatient Mental Health and Addictions at SAH.

Professional registered counsellors from SAH, CMHA, APH and JHS work with clients to provide a comprehensive treatment plan. “The client participates in a 60-90 minute counselling session with two professionals and leaves the building with a plan to help them manage on their own or until their appointment with their care provider/counsellor. For many, this one session will be all they need. If they require more services, they are referred to the best fit,” says Case.

The goals of this initiative are to provide quicker access to counselling, reduce counselling wait times, prevention through early identification and treatment, and reduce unnecessary visits to the hospital’s Emergency department. “Our hope is that through early identification and treatment, we can prevent issues from escalating, becoming more complex and requiring more intensive interventions,” says Case. “This service has allowed us to build capacity in the community and divert clients from having to use access Emergency department.” According to Case, there is a demonstrated willingness amongst all community care providers to shift the way that service is provided.

Counsellors from the partner agencies are working together and sharing their expertise, resulting in greater skill development and improved competency. “When we work together, we learn together, our referrals are more timely and appropriate and this reduces fatigue for both clients and care providers,” explains Case. “Ultimately, our community is benefitting from this collaborative effort that puts the client first.”   

A two-year review (clients from inception of walk-in service to November 2017) recently prepared by Algoma Family Services, shows that clients highly value this community service and plan to continue using it. “Our stats show that 99 % would use the service again, 11 % would have gone to the Emergency department, 24 % would have to Crisis Services and 27 % would have gone to their family doctor,” says Sandie Leith, Director of Service, AFS. “Our data supports that clients are getting quality, prompt service without having to go other agencies such as the hospital,” she adds.

According to Leith, the Walk-In Counselling Service is a very unique partnership. “Where many communities have designated funding to provide this type of service, mental health and addictions care organizations in our community have come together to provide this service voluntarily.”

Annette Katajamaki, Executive Director, CMHA, says that the counselling wait list at her organization is about 6 months. “Through this service, clients can get the help they need quickly, before their appointment, to ensure that their issues to do not escalate while waiting,” she says. “It’s very motivating to see this level of interagency collaboration where staff is revitalized, knowing they are making a difference, all while learning from one another.” Partners agree that this best-practice model of care is building block for future partnership opportunities. “We will continue to look for ways to work together to provide timely, efficient and effective service to those that need help in our community,” adds Katajamaki.

The CMHA provides a wealth of information about the walk-in counselling service and other mental health and addictions services for Algoma. “We encourage anyone who needs assistance to reach out to our information service at (705) 759-5989,” says Katajamaki. “Our very knowledgeable staff can direct clients to the appropriate resources in the community.”

The Walk-In Counselling Service is located at 386 Queen Street East (across from Fabricland) and is open every Tuesday from 11:30 am until 5:30 pm. No appointment is needed. This service is free, and complimentary parking is also available in the rear of the building. Clients are registered but a health card is not required.


Rose Calibani is the Public Affairs Officer at Sault Area Hospital. We welcome comments and suggestions for future column topics. Please call Public Affairs at (705) 759-3671.