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Supervised injection services at Sandy Hill community centre suspended after 8 workers report feeling sick

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The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre closed its supervised drug injection services this week after eight staff members reported feeling unwell last week.

The community centre said on its website that it is investigating its next steps because of a "recent health and safety issue."

"The health and safety of our clients, staff members and neighbours has always been and will always be our top priority," a statement said. "This was not an easy decision. We are doing our best to minimize disruption."

Program director Wendy Stewart told CTV News Ottawa that something caused eight staff members to feel unwell last week, leading to the temporary closure of the injection site.

"It happened over a period of a few days. Staff expressed brief periods of feeling nauseous, light-headed, or had a headache, and when they removed themselves from the area, they actually felt fine and resumed the rest of their workday," she said.

It's not yet clear why staff started to feel sick. Stewart says when they closed the facility, everyone recovered.

The ventilation system at the facility is being investigated, Stewart says.

Other services, such as the drop-in, the medical clinic, the outreach program, distribution of harm reduction equipment, and drug checking remain available, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre says.

"We are acutely aware of the impact this situation will have on clients and our community, and are exploring options to redeploy staff to do outreach and engagement in the neighbourhood and overdose response outside," a note on the community centre's website said Friday.

A sign on the door at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre says it will re-evaluate the situation on Monday.

A sign posted outside the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. March 1, 2024. (Natalie van Rooy/CTV News Ottawa)

The Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development says it was first notified of a "health and safety event" on Feb. 23 and an inspector visited the site on Feb. 27.

The ministry did not provide any additional information, citing the ongoing investigation. 

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's supervised drug consumption site was first approved in 2017. The centre recently flagged a growing toxicity in the local drug supply, saying its drug-checking has detected the tranquilizer Xylazine in local drugs. Staff at the community centre have also noticed a rise in overdoses in the area.

Ottawa Public Health data show there were 90 visits to the emergency department because of a suspected overdose in the third week of February, the highest number so far this year. 

There are three other supervised consumption sites in Ottawa: Ottawa Public Health offers supervised consumption services at 179 Clarence St.; the Shepherds of Good Hope has a site at 230 Murray St.; and the Somerset West Community Health Centre offers services at 55 Eccles St.

Correction

A previous version of this story said the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre's supervised injection site opened in 2017. It was approved in 2017 but opened in 2018.

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