Police call on government to step up mental health support

As Kingston’s Providence Care prepares to shed nearly a fifth of its workforce and close beds at the former Kingston Psychiatric Hospital, there have been a number of media stories this week providing clear evidence capacity for mental health services in Canada is already woefully inadequate.

Yesterday CTV reported that Canada’s police chiefs called upon government to step up support for mental health services.

Association President Jim Chu of the Vancouver Police services said the number of people apprehended in that city under the Mental Health Act has more than quadrupled since 2002.

“We went from the agency of last resort to the mental health service agency of first resort,” Chu told CTV. “And that’s wrong. That’s failing those who are mentally ill and who deserve better care.”

Today the Ottawa Citizen presented further evidence of patients experiencing difficult accessing needed care. The newspaper notes that area youth with mental illness are waiting up to 14 months for treatment.

While the government has continually made promises about community-based supports, they are not nearly enough to make up for the decades of hospital bed reductions earmarked for mental health. In 1960 Canada had more than 47,000 mental health beds, about half of them in Ontario. Now Ontario has less than 2,000 beds in specialized hospitals like Providence care.

Since 2009, The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has admitted 33 per cent more patients due to suicide risk and 61 per cent more due to self-injury. CHEO, like the other hospitals in Ontario, are experiencing a freeze in base funding for the second year in a row.

As we noted earlier this week, the province is doggedly adhering to mental health bed targets established in 1998 by the Mike Harris-era Health Restructuring Commission.

At that time the Commission had recommended an interim target of 35 mental health beds per 100,000 people and a final target of 30 beds per 100,000. That objective had been reached provincially by 2008, but the province continues to cut beds claiming the target has not been reached in regionally defined catchment areas. That includes both South East and South West Ontario.

Nobody is looking at whether those initial targets should be revisited or what it would take to provide equivalent care in the community. For many patients treatment in the community is simply not an option.

The question is, will what the police chiefs say together in Winnipeg translate to local intervention closer to home? Will Kingston’s police department be willing to speak out about reductions in beds at Providence Care, especially when the Mayor is the son of Liberal cabinet minister John Gerretsen?

The London area is experiencing a significant loss of mental health beds with the rebuild of two community mental health facilities. Even after transferring patients to other regional facilities, the region will have 67 fewer beds. One of those two facilities has already opened in St. Thomas and another is well under construction in London. Like the Kingston plan, both are being built under the costly public-private partnership model.

In Kingston it is not too late to influence planning around a new hospital to replace both the former Kingston Psychiatric Hospital and St. Mary’s Of The Lake, a rehab facility. Both are operated by Providence Care.

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