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Jill Diamond, left, executive director of the Diamond Foundation and sister to Steven Diamond, said her family encountered ‘a messy system at every turn’ when her brother tried to access addictions treatment.ETHAN CAIRNS/The Canadian Press

A private donation of $20-million aims to transform how addictions care is delivered in the Vancouver area by providing access to a range of recovery services in a single setting and integrating the currently fragmented approach to care.

Jill Diamond, executive director of the private, charitable Diamond Foundation, said her family was compelled to help fund a new model of addictions care after witnessing her brother’s experiences trying to access treatment.

“We encountered a messy system at every turn – delays, disappointments, wait lists,” an emotional Ms. Diamond said at an event announcing the donation on Monday.

“After years of struggle, Steven was finally put on a wait list for an addiction psychiatrist, but sadly, he never made that appointment,” she said. “While facing an agonizing wait, he was killed by fentanyl. Steven was only 53 – much too young to die. Some people say the system is simply broken. But the truth is, the system we need doesn’t even exist.”

The new Road to Recovery model at St. Paul’s Hospital is expected to offer acute stabilization, detox, short-term stays, inpatient recovery and outpatient recovery all in one location, while shaving weeks off wait lists.

It will eventually include 95 new beds: 25 acute stabilization and withdrawal management beds and 20 transitional stay beds at the hospital, and 50 recovery beds nearby in the community, run by Providence Health Care, the non-profit organization that operates St. Paul’s. The first beds, focused on stabilization, will open this fall.

Whereas people currently seeking services must navigate a siloed system that can mean phoning various detox or bed-based recovery services and adding their names to wait lists, the new model will come with a central point of intake, said Seonaid Nolan, the co-creator of the Road to Recovery model. She is the medical director for Providence’s addiction program and a clinician scientist with the BC Centre on Substance Use.

“The difference with the Road to Recovery model is that we are implementing medical experts who will be triaging people to determine where is the most appropriate place for people to receive services,” she said in an interview.

“So people will automatically be added to a wait list to get a detox bed. They’ll be seen by an interdisciplinary team. It will be determined if they need a detox bed, and if they don’t, they’ll be linked to on-demand treatment through places like the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital and other community addiction treatment providers.”

Road to Recovery co-creator Cheyenne Johnson, who is executive director at the BCCSU, said a co-ordinated, accessible and seamless continuum of substance-use care was identified as a top need when the centre was established in 2017.

“Although several improvements have been made, seven years into the ongoing toxic drug crisis, no such co-ordinated system of care is in place,” she said. “We are sadly reminded daily of the devastating results on families and communities across the city, province and country. It became clear that focusing on advocating alone for these systems’ improvements just wasn’t enough.”

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Several years ago, Ms. Johnson and Dr. Nolan began discussing how to deliver a range of services in one setting. From those conversations emerged the concept for Road to Recovery, which they, in partnership with the St. Paul’s Foundation, brought to the Diamond Foundation last year.

Fiona Dalton, president and chief executive at Providence Health Care, called the Diamond family’s gift “catalytic.”

With that $20-million donation covering capital costs, Providence and the BCCSU then went to the province to propose a “fundamental new way of working” and were met with a commitment of $60.9-million toward operating costs, she said. The B.C. government announced the Road to Recovery program in March as part of its 2023 budget and its broader $1-billion investment in mental health and addiction treatment over the next three years.

The Diamond family’s donation “was really what enabled us to have that conversation” with the province, Ms. Dalton said.

Steven Diamond, a massage therapist and addictions counsellor, struggled with substance-use disorder for much of his life, but also experienced periods of sobriety, sometimes up to five years at a time, according to his family.

He tried 12-step programs, private recovery, specialists and more; his family spent thousands of dollars on treatment centres only to be met with disappointment. Mr. Diamond died from fentanyl toxicity in 2016, days before an appointment with an addiction psychiatrist.

“This is a disease that can come for anyone, including you and those you love,” his sister said Monday. “While ours was not a success story, we want to help rewrite history for others.”

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