On Monday we will be in Kingston for the third time this year to talk about issues at Providence Care – Mental Health.
Last February we stood with staff and community members picketing in the bitter cold to protest changes they didn’t feel were in the best interests of patients. It was so cold that the iPod we were playing to keep the picket festive froze.
At the time program cuts, understaffing and overcrowding were creating significant challenges for caregivers and support staff.
We were back again April 13 for the community plebiscite vote around the proposed new P3 hospital to replace Providence’s rehab and mental health facilities. Unusually cold for the early spring, about 10,000 Kingston residents none-the-less took time and voted 96 per cent in favor of keeping the proposed new hospital completely public. At a time of austerity budgets, it was hard to imagine why the province would want to sign a deal that would hamstring the hospital with a 30-year private maintenance and financing agreement that even the local MPP admitted would be more costly than the public alternative.
Monday we are responding to news that almost one in five professional and support staff at the hospital will be without a job in the new year. When Providence Care announced the new hospital back in 2011, they made it clear that it is planning for the future by delivering less – 40 fewer mental health beds than presently exist.
The problem is the province continues to follow the bed recommendations issued in 1998 by the Harris-era Health Restructuring Commission. Has it not occurred to the Wynne government that these recommendations are badly out of date?
While the province was enthusiastic about reducing mental health beds to 30 per 100,000 residents, they were less interested in providing an equivalent number of community-based services to replace the beds that were being cut. The funding ratio was recommended to be 60 per cent community, 40 per cent institutional. While the provincial target was met for bed cuts by 2008, the funding target for community care was never reached.
Yet the bed cuts continue.
With Ontario’s remaining psychiatric hospitals either at or near capacity, it is hard to imagine where these existing patients would go?
There is clearly a major access gap to services.
The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs recently challenged governments to increase support for mental health, noting they were becoming front line mental health responders by default.
Last year The Mental Health Commission of Canada asked provinces to sign on to their national strategy – one that includes bringing up the percentage of provincial budgets spent on mental health.
In 2009 the Alzheimer’s Society warned that Canadian living with dementia will double within a generation.
So why are we building new facilities that will not even be capable of accommodating the present bed capacity of the hospitals they are intended to replace?
Even worse, while the new building is not expected to open until 2016 or 2017, staff and bed reductions are happening now.
About one in five of us will experience a mental illness during our lifetime. Almost everyone knows someone – a family member, a friend, a colleague – who has suffered a mental illness or continues to struggle with their illness.
Stigma is a poor lobbyist. If we don’t see mental illness in the context of our overall health, we will never move forward as a community. That would be a tragedy. Frankly, politicians can underfund and neglect mental health because we let them.
Please, if you live or work in Kingston and have a little time during your lunch hour on Monday, September 9, come show your support not just for the workers and patients, but for our future.
We’ll be outside of Providence Care – Mental Health from 11 am to 1 pm. Weather forecast for Kingston on Monday, September 9: 18 degrees, sunny, and loud.
Come say hello. We’d love to talk to you. You might even find your ideas in the next Diablogue.