Left to right: Jill Diamond, Lauri Glotman, Leslie Diamond, Gordon Diamond and Steven Diamond, in 2014. (photo from St. Paul’s Foundation)
The Diamond family is speaking publicly about the tragic loss of Steven Diamond – a cherished father, son, brother and addictions counselor killed by fentanyl in 2016 – and honouring his life with a $20 million donation to St. Paul’s Hospital. The gift both memorializes Steven Diamond’s legacy and funds a first-in-Canada model of treatment that could transform addictions care across the country.
“We’re speaking out today for the first time because we want to save lives,” said Jill Diamond, Steven’s sister and executive director of the Diamond Foundation, when the donation was announced last week. “No matter where we turned, we never found the help that Steven needed. If he had access to the care now being developed at St. Paul’s Hospital with this new initiative, he might still be with us here today.”
One of the key factors driving substance use-related harms in British Columbia is the lack of a seamless system of care to support people with addiction. Gaps failing to connect prevention, treatment and recovery mean that people are unable to access the supports they need, when and where they need them.
The Diamond Foundation’s $20 million gift to St. Paul’s Foundation will fund development of the new Road to Recovery at St. Paul’s Hospital, a first-in-Canada model of care that aims to fill these gaps. Road to Recovery will cut weeks off waitlists and support patients to move through a full spectrum of treatment services all in one location. It will eventually house 95 beds for seamless transition between all stages of the recovery journey – from the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic through withdrawal management, in-patient recovery-focused beds, transitional housing, outpatient treatment and more. The first beds, focused on stabilization, will open in fall of 2023.
“Road to Recovery began as a vision for a full continuum of substance use care within a single setting at St. Paul’s Hospital, so that people can access the evidence-based addiction care they need, when they need it. Addiction medicine clinicians like myself know that being able to refer someone to the appropriate service and then provide follow-up care is integral to supporting their wellness, but is rarely an option,” said Dr. Seonaid Nolan, physician program director for Providence Health Care’s Addiction Program and clinician scientist with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
“The Road to Recovery will now make this possible,” Nolan continued. “I am so incredibly grateful to the Diamond family and foundation for their extraordinary generosity and their shared vision for a better model of substance use care. Their kindness and leadership have played a significant role in making the Road to Recovery a reality.”
The Diamond Foundation’s gift is made in honour of Steven Diamond, who is remembered as an “immeasurably giving” addictions counselor and massage therapist with a “healing touch.” While his life was punctuated with long periods of sobriety and joy, he faced a prolonged struggle with substance use disorder that saw him in and out of treatment for years.
During his most distressing moments, the Diamond family says he encountered a messy system of delays and disappointments. Finally, the 53-year-old was placed on a three-month waitlist to see a B.C. addiction psychiatrist. He was killed by fentanyl less than a week before that scheduled appointment.
“This tragedy clearly shows our healthcare system was not and is not up to the task,” said Jill Diamond. “Steven was a well-sought-after addictions counselor with expertise in the field, and family means to pay for recovery. The fact that even he couldn’t get well, despite giving his entire life’s effort, shows addiction is a disease that must be looked at medically with new models of care. That’s what today is about.”
“This donation demonstrates the power of philanthropy to drive systemic change,” said Dick Vollet, president and chief executive officer of St. Paul’s Foundation. “Despite the most difficult circumstances, the Diamond family is bravely stepping forward to help fix a broken system – and giving families hope there is a path to recovery.”
But this $20 million donation is the beginning, not the end. With the Diamond Foundation’s leadership gift in place, the provincial government has committed $60.9 million toward operating costs.
“The Road to Recovery … is crucial for the one in six people at St. Paul’s Hospital who experience substance use disorder,” said Fiona Dalton, president and chief executive officer of Providence Health Care, expressing gratitude “to the Diamonds for this generous gift. And we’re grateful to the provincial government and our healthcare partners for investing in and supporting this important initiative.”
Further, it’s hoped the Diamonds’ act of philanthropy inspires the public to donate as well.
“We want the public to take action and understand that substance use disorder is not a moral failing, nor a weakness, nor a choice,” said Jill Diamond, noting the gift is a demonstration of the family’s Jewish values. “As with tikkun olam, we hope this act of kindness helps to repair the world. As found in the Talmud: ‘Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the entire world.’ We have lost our beloved Steven, but we hope we can save lives and positively impact the world. This is a disease that can come for anyone – including you and those you love. While ours was not a success story, we want to rewrite history for others.”
To donate, visit helpstpauls.com.
– Courtesy St. Paul’s Foundation