Great Canadians: WaterStone Foundation

WaterStone founder Kim Duffy wants to give families affected by eating disorders the support they need.

Kim Duffy (right) with her daughter Corinne (left)Photo: May TruongFor Kim Duffy, sending away her teenage daughter was the best hope for saving the girl’s life. Corinne, then 17, had been struggling with bulimia and anorexia for more than five years; treatments at home in Toronto had been unsuccessful. Duffy and her husband, Terry, found a residential facility in Virginia, and Corinne signed on for a two-month stay in the summer of 2009.

It would take another five years before Corinne arrived, as she says, “at a good place.” Today, at 24, she’s healthy and pursuing a master’s degree in Colorado. She and her parents believe the holistic approach, individualized focus and immersive structure of her treatment were key to her recovery. And they know they had access to unique resources. “We were fortunate,” says Duffy. “We could pay for everything.”

But many can’t. According to a report released in November 2014 by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, between 600,000 and one million Canadians meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder at any given time. Mental health issues with severe physical ramifications, anorexia (which has a mortality rate of between 10 and 15 per cent) and bulimia (which has a mortality rate of five per cent) are difficult to treat. Public inpatient programs often won’t admit patients until they’re in life-threatening condition, and many respond poorly to the one-size-fits-all approach.

Private clinics often have epic waitlists and prohibitive costs: at Homewood, in Guelph, Ont., a room is $305 to $360 per day.

The Duffys’ struggle led them to connect other families with the quality of care they received in the United States. In late 2013, they founded the WaterStone Clinic, a private eating disorder centre in Toronto.

Since the facility opened, 170 clients have received treatment. They take yoga, do art therapy and participate in meal prep, building real-life skills with an empathetic support team. Programs run weekdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and notably, so far WaterStone has no waiting list.

But this approach is costly: approximately $650 per day. Cognizant that the price tag puts WaterStone out of reach for many, the Duffys created the WaterStone Foundation-a charity that provides aid to patients who can’t afford treatment-the following year. Candidates are assessed by two committees that make a decision based on clinical and financial need. Since 2014, the foundation has helped 10 people at the clinic that shares its name; it now offers assistance to clients of Homewood and hopes to do the same with a facility in Manitoba.

David Choo Chong was the first to benefit from the foundation’s generosity. Now 23, he entered the WaterStone Clinic in March 2014. The Torontonian had tried many programs over more than five years, but none was successful; eventually, his illness compelled him to cease his studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and move home.

Despite Choo Chong’s initial skepticism, he thrived once he began working with a therapist who specialized in dialectical behaviour therapy, which helps people manage their distress.

But a few months in, the cost-$50,000 thus far-forced his family to consider pulling him out. The foundation offered to pay 50 per cent of the fees for the next phase of his treatment. Two years later, Choo Chong, happy and stable, is completing his degree. “WaterStone helped me come into who I am,” he says.

Duffy also wants to change the public system. In June of this year, the foundation awarded $170,000 in grants-generated from private donors-to four Ontario hospitals working on novel initiatives for eating-disorder patients. “Yes, people need private treatment,” she says, “but it’s important to help out on a broader scale, too.”