Parties respond to Alliance questionnaire on mental health

We’ve previously noted that all parties had little to say in their official platforms when it comes to mental health care.

The Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance recently surveyed the four main parties asking a series of specific questions about mental health care. The Greens, Liberals and NDP answered the questions, the PCs instead sent a form letter about Tim Hudak’s widely discredited Million Jobs Plan, reiterated the PC health hubs plan and made some non-specific comments about integration. The official PC platform only says that mental health will be a priority. “We will take the fragmented services now offered and replace them with a comprehensive approach to help some of our most vulnerable citizens,” they say.

The Liberals say they would continue to follow their Open Minds Healthy Minds strategy which includes a mix of initiatives, including early intervention and an expansion of housing and employment supports. Unfortunately they have to reach back to 2010 to give an example of such housing investments ($16 million that year for 1,000 units of supportive housing for people with substance abuse issues). Like the Tories they believe there should be greater integration between mental health and social services, referring to work being done by a multi-ministerial committee of assistant deputy ministers. They are also suggesting a new funding model be applied to mental health saying it should be based on need and quality. They do note that addictions funding has increased by 58 per cent since 2003, which incidentally, is slower than the overall rate of increase to health care spending during the same period (77 per cent). They do say that they have increased spending on community mental health by 94.7 per cent, omitting this took place as they were cutting significant numbers of beds in psychiatric hospitals. The Liberals also refer to their work on poverty reduction as an example of their commitment to addressing the social determinants of health. Their reply to the Alliance does take a shot at the Tories plan to cut 100,000 jobs in the public sector. “You cannot improve the mental health and addictions system while also getting rid of the critical staff who provide the services. It just is not possible.”

The Ontario NDP made a significant commitment in their response to the Alliance’s questions. The Ontario NDP say they “remain firmly committed” to the strategies included in the 2010 final report of the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions. “It is unfortunate that the well-researched and crucial recommendations of this Committee have been largely ignored.” They say they would act “promptly” on those 23 recommendations, including modeling a new coordinating mental health agency on Cancer Care Ontario and ensuring there is a core basket of mental health services in each region. Asked about supportive housing, the NDP instead highlight their commitment to provide $400 million over five years in a long-term affordable housing program. In terms of social determinants of health, the NDP say they will raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2016 and index it to inflation after that. They will also change the rules and boost benefits for a range of social services that could support those living with mental illness.

The Greens have essentially bought into the Liberal plan, noting the four goals are “right in line with our health care plans.” Taking a page from the NDP platform, they would invest $1.6 billion over four years in family and community care clinics that would include psychologists and counselors. They would support a target of 10,000 new units of affordable (and possibly supportive?) housing per year. “The GPO will work with private builders to include affordable housing units in new builds,” they say.

The Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance is made up of nine organizations that presently deliver mental health services. They include the Ontario Hospital Association, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

To read the full response to the Alliance’s questionnaire, click here.

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