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Sanctum opening for HIV patients

By Ken Roberts


SASKATOON — “A match made in heaven” is how a St. Paul’s Hospital board member described the partnership between the hospital and Sanctum, Saskatchewan’s first HIV transitional care home and hospice.

Bill Edwards, past chair of the hospital’s board of directors, was speaking at the official opening of Sanctum, a 10-bed facility located at Avenue O and 21st St. in Saskatoon. The opening occurred Nov. 2.

Sanctum co-founders Dr. Morris Markentin and social worker Katelynn Roberts first approached St. Paul’s board about 18 months ago about using the former Grey Nuns residence as a transitional care home for people with HIV. Saskatoon has one of the highest rates of HIV-positive individuals in the country, mostly from intravenous drug use. Working out of the Westside Clinic, Markentin and Roberts cared for HIV persons on a daily basis.

“St. Paul’s Hospital has owned this residence for several years and we have been searching for the right service to be delivered out of this facility,” said Edwards. “Providing a transition service for people in need of stable housing to receive care is a perfect fit with St. Paul’s mission and the Grey Nuns before us.”

Markentin says that people living with HIV can often receive their medication through home IV therapy as an outpatient after their first week in hospital, but those without stable housing, who usually have ongoing addictions and mental health issues cannot. They often discharge themselves against medical advice, leading to complications. They then enter a cycle of emergency care and hospital visits.

“If we can get people on their meds, three meals a day and a roof over their heads, that’s the start of getting healthy,” says Markentin. He said when people living with HIV take their medicines regularly, they reduce their the amount of virus in their bloodstream, which virtually eliminates their risk of spreading the disease.

Crystal Dreaver described how hard it is to fight HIV and live on the street. “When I was sick with the disease, I didn’t have a home and moved from place to place.” It would have been nice to have a place where she could have gone to rest and get better. She has since recovered and is the client representative on the Sanctum’s board.

Two of the beds at Sanctum are for end-of-life care and the rest are for clients who require sub-acute or rehabilitative care.

Corey Miller of the Saskatoon Health region said, “It is about getting the right patient, the right care, in the right bed. By treating these patients in a community setting rather than in a hospital, the health care team at Sanctum will provide holistic care to treat the clients’ drug addictions and the root cause of this addiction, in addition to their HIV symptoms.”

The heath region will be providing $836,000 for Sanctum’s first year of operation. Sanctum is expected to reduce health care spending by more than $800,000 annually after accounting for operational costs, by reducing HIV patient visits to the emergency departments by 40 per cent and reducing inpatient bed utilization by 2,902 days, freeing up an average of eight hospital beds per year.

Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) and the Community Advisory Board on Saskatoon Homelessness provided $180,000 in federal funds for renovations of the facility. “We know people with extraordinary health issues and addictions struggle more often with homelessness. Specialized housing programs like Sanctum are a critical part of co-ordinated services to prevent and end homelessness,” says Shaun Dyck, executive director of SHIP.

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