LONDON – Standing in the freezing rain March 9, about 25 OPSEU activists in downtown London, Ontario called upon the McGuinty government to “walk the talk” on mental health March 9th
Organized by OPSEU Local 152, the mobile protest gathered in front of the South West LHIN and eventually marched a few blocks to Health Minister Deb Matthews’ constituency office.
Fifty-nine beds from the London and St. Thomas Regional Mental Health Centre are to be transferred to Windsor later this year, but OPSEU expects that at least another 21 beds will simply disappear.
“We don’t want that to happen. It will affect our clients who need mental health services in London and area,” Elizabeth Craik, vice-president of OPSEU Local 152 told the London Free Press.
When the Regional Health Centre eventually moves into new quarters in three years, there will be at least 70 fewer beds that presently exist in the region.
In addition, the hospital has been cutting staff to deal with underfunding from the province. This year 20 jobs were eliminated, including skills instructors and the only hairdresser serving the two facilities.
OPSEU Regional Vice-President Gino Franche told the gathering that patients will be transferred with the beds to Windsor, “whether they want to go or not.”
Franche said the government failed to follow the plan of the Health Restructuring Commission, which insisted, on cutting no beds until services were replaced in the community.
“Our community-based mental health agencies would need to receive a 50 per cent increase in funding to match the targets set by that Commission,” he said.
OPSEU Region 2 board member Eduardo Almeida said that when the system failed the mentally ill, they would end up in his workplace – corrections.
“Are there no jails, are there no workhouses?” Almeida said, comparing the plight of Ontario’s mentally ill to the poor in Charles Dickens “A Christimas Carol.”
“Criminals belong in jail,” he said, “not people with mental illness.”
When the group arrived at the Health Minister’s Constituency office, a prepared letter from the MPP was distributed to the group.
Matthews said the South West LHIN was working on a community capacity implementation plan for mental health. The plan is expected this summer.
She said that fundamentally moving people out of institutional care is the “absolutely right approach.” She says they are bringing them into the community where a range of supports will be organized around them.
Unfortunately the beds are being cut, and nobody knows where these supports will be.