New downtown clinic for psychosis patients in the “middle territory”
People & Places

New downtown clinic for psychosis patients in the “middle territory”

“I just consider myself very lucky.”

Jackie, a 60-year-old mother of two, is describing her experience at a new community mental health clinic opened by the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. About 40 years ago, Jackie started hearing, seeing, feeling, and even smelling things that didn’t exist. The delusions, combined with her depression and mood swings, were diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder. With medication and support, she now leads a normal life, but in January her previous symptoms were in danger of flaring up.

“I was very close to being admitted,” she recalls, describing how moving house was causing her stress. That prevented her from sleeping — a common problem for people diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. “The symptoms become more amplified.”

In the past, Jackie would have no choice but to go to an emergency room, and, from there, possibly be referred to the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. She bypassed that route this time, thanks to the Ozerdinc Grimes Family Regional Psychosis Clinic, located on the ground floor of the City Centre complex just west of the downtown core.

“I just phoned,” says Jackie. “I was talking to my nurse and explaining that I had had no sleep, that I could not sleep.” She was seen the next day. “It was dealt with very quickly and very efficiently,” she says. “Within about a week my sleeping patterns got back to normal again.”

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia

According to clinic director Dr. David Attwood, there are around 11,000 people in the Ottawa area with schizophrenia disorders. The clinic, he says, is for people who need more care than a family doctor provides, but don’t need intensive treatment in a hospital setting. He says the majority of people affected are in this “middle territory.”

At the Ozerdinc clinic, a range of services are offered, from medication injections to cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients needing monthly blood work benefit from a simplified process requiring only a prick on the finger, compared to the usual needle in the arm. Right now, patients need to be referred by other health care providers, but Attwood says walk-in service may be offered in the future. “We want patients who are voluntarily seeking care. We don’t want anybody to be forced to come here for care.”

His goal is to help about 1,000 new patients enrolled over the next three to five years. He expects many of them may never have received treatment before. “The schizophrenia world is a big tent,” he says. “We know there are a lot of people out there that need help and are struggling to get it. We want to be approachable. We want to get people who traditionally struggled to access care.”

The look and location of the clinic (compared to the Royal Ottawa) is part of its appeal, according to clinical nurse specialist Lisa Murata. “I know people sometimes say they don’t want to get off the bus in front of the hospital, so they get off a stop ahead,” she says. But she notes this place could easily pass for any kind of dental or walk-in clinic. “They come in the door and go, ‘Wow,’ ” she adds.

Neighbouring businesses include a brewery, art gallery and pool hall. There is a patient art group, and Murata has already started forging links with the gallery.
She also anticipates taking groups for outings to the pool hall. “By being in the community, it just makes it more accessible to people,” she says. Being well-connected to the Ottawa River and LRT, she adds, make walking groups an easy social activity.

Attwood has long dreamed of establishing this kind of clinic. Three previous funding applications were not successful. This time he got support from Ersin
Ozerdinc and Kathleen Grimes, a husband-and-wife team in the construction business who have a long history of philanthropy. They donated $2.5 million, the
lion’s share of the initial funding. Grimes realized the need for the clinic after an immediate family member developed schizophrenia. She was shocked to discover how difficult it is to get care from an overwhelmed system.

“I had to be very aggressive to ensure he got the care he needed,” she says. “No one should have to go through what I went through to get care for their loved one.”

The initial funding will eventually run out; Attwood says the goal now is proving the clinic’s effectiveness to the Ontario Ministry of Health so it will — hopefully — qualify for long-term financial support. “We believe we can cut down on emergency room visits. We believe we can facilitate people getting discharged from hospital. We believe we can keep people out of the hospital once they are discharged,” he says.

For Jackie, one of those goals has already been met. She didn’t need to be hospitalized. “Having the clinic, it gave me the opportunity to deal with it on the outside.”