It’s mental health week – not that any of the politicians has particularly noticed on the campaign trail.
We’ve all heard the statistics. One in five of us will experience it during our lifetime. Chances are we all know someone – a friend, a family member – who is going through it. It’s everywhere, but yet on the political landscape, nowhere.
In this year’s aborted provincial budget, there was to be $65 million in new funding for mental health. Compare that to the $270 million in new money going to home care. That will tell you everything you need to know about priorities at Queen’s Park. This, incidentally, is on a $50 billion health budget.
The $65 million represents a slowdown in overall mental health funding – not a new beginning. We just completed a three-year $250 million plan that focused on children and youth. That means more than $80 million a year in new money had been invested in mental health – up until now.
Mental health has been subject to the same game being played in the larger health system. We’re told, as beds disappear, that patients are going to be better served in the community – some day. Not now. We wait. In fact we’ve been waiting since the 1990s when the Health Restructuring Commission had set targets for bed reductions that were supposed to be in lock step with new community capacity. They did cut the beds. We got some community support. In lock step? No way.
Last year when we saw $6 million was about to disappear from the budget at Kingston’s Providence Care, we looked to Frontenac Community Care to see if it was showing up there. Nope. In fact, the base budget at Frontenac was also being trimmed, albeit by just a bit.
So where did the $6 million go?
In 1984 Kingston’s Providence Care had 467 beds. Providence is downsizing to 120 beds, which is how many the city will have after the expensive new P3 rehab/psychiatric hospital opens.
At the other end of the province we visited the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care this winter in St. Thomas. We had repeatedly warned that while the new facility was needed, it was not big enough to accommodate local need. So what happened? We were told on the tour that the facility is now full, and had they the funding, they could also fill the last of the handful of vacant but unfunded beds. That handful of additional beds was intended to allow for future expansion. Many patients wait instead in crowded provincial correctional facilities. There’s no joy in saying this, but we told you so.
We also visited with staff of a vocational program in London. The program was closing down, taking away real supports to those patients in the community who were looking for some basic employment (and a little friendship) to keep them going. It’s now gone, the replacement will not serve those who regularly came to this workshop. We have no idea of what has happened to these individuals. Likely neither does the province.
Last week we were in the media when we learned that the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health had gone a little too far in curbing the smoking habit of patients. Most of these patients were not there for smoking addiction, but CAMH felt they had the right to confiscate their smokes and mail them back to their homes. Meanwhile they could go on a nicotine patch. For many its the worst time in their lives — not the best time to quit smoking. So after they involuntarily kick the habit and experience withdrawal symptoms, they can go home to find a pack waiting for them in the mail. Go figure.
It’s mental health week. Hoorah.