'It's an excellent change for us.'

Mamisarvik moves a happlier place in Ottawa


Pam Stellick had to balance her phone and laptop computer on a couple of cardboard boxes last month as she conducted a phone interview.

But the executive-director of Ottawa's Mamisarvik Healing Centre was not complaining.

In fact, she was happy, because Mamisarvik had just moved into new digs that will bring everything under one roof for the first time since the centre opened in 2003.

"It's an excellent change for us," Stellick said of the takeover of the old Larga Baffin building at 1863 Russell Rd. in Ottawa.

Last month resembled a big game of musical chairs for Mamisarvik and Larga Baffin.

On April 17, Larga Baffin, a residence for Nunavummiut who have to come to Ottawa for medical care, moved out of its Russell Road location and into a new 81-bed facility at 1071 Richmond Rd.

The official opening is still a couple of months down the road, said general manager Trudy Metcalfe.

But within days of Larga's move, Mamisarvik had taken over the Russell Road facility.

"We're still in boxes and we're getting the furniture set up," Stellick said. "But we have to be ready to roll when the first group arrives for the eight-week, intensive, residential treatment program in the first week of May."

Stellick is excited about the move because it means that for the first time since the healing centre opened its doors in 2003, she will be able to run the entire residential program under one roof.

The original client housing for Mamisarvik, one of only two residential addictions and trauma treatment centres in the country specifically for Inuit, could hold up to a dozen people, she explained. But the program building was about a mile away from it, so that everyone had to travel back and forth in the morning and evening.

"It made communications a critical issue," she said. The new facility "will help with the flow of programming, and allow the evening activities to be more integrated with the daytime."

The new place is also much bigger overall, she added, so there is more elbow room for people to move around. "We can have a quiet room, a games room, a TV room. We never had those before – only bedrooms."

Mamisarvik offers what Stellick calls "a full continuum of treatment services" for Inuit suffering from drug or alcohol addictions, or from a variety of traumas.

Abuse of alcohol and drugs like marijuana and crack-cocaine are overwhelmingly the big issues, but addictions are often linked to trauma, Stellick explained.

"Sexual abuse recovery is a big part of our work here. But so is recovery from physical abuse – and from traumas related to poverty and even starvation."

Treatment starts with an assessment that staff do for all prospective clients, whether they call the centre on their own initiative or are referred to Mamisarvik by another agency.

That is followed up with pretreatment programming, which could include group work or one-on-one counseling.

But the centrepiece of the healing centre's work is the eight-week, intensive residential program that Mamisarvik offers four times a year.

It's really "only one stop in the treatment program," she said, because it's always followed up with aftercare, often by phone and email if the client is returning to an isolated, northern community, for example.

"Once people have been through our program," Stellick said, "they are part of our family forever."

Mamisarvik has 325 people on it's open client files, ranging from those just beginning the assessment process, to people signed up for the intensive program, to others involved in aftercare.

Three-fifths of the clients are female and two-fifths are male, and the majority fit in the 30-50 age range.

They have to be at least 18 to be eligible for treatment at Mamisarvik.

Although 48 per cent of the clients are from Nunavut, almost as many (41 per cent) come from Ontario, mainly Ottawa.

Six per cent come from southern Quebec, including Gatineau and Montreal, two per cent from Nunavik and 1.5 per cent from Labrador. All are Inuit.

Funding mainly comes from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which could be a problem, Stellick said, as the foundation is set to close down operations in 2012.

Mamisarvik also has a contract with the Nunavut government that covers the cost of treatment for up to 20 clients a year from the Baffin region.

It is also providing training and logistical support to help the Nunatsiavut government establish a residential treatment centre of its own in Northwest River.

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