Above: Arthur Gallant — one of the more inspired choices for the Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Advisory Council.
Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins has been doing a lot of tweeting this week about the second phase of Ontario’s 10-year Mental Health plan. You may recall that the 10-year plan really was a three-year plan in 2011, which is being followed by another three-year plan now. We presume they’ll just continue making it up as they go along.
First the good news: The government is investing $16 million to create 1,000 more supportive housing spaces, opening a 12-bed paediatric residential treatment unit at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services, and spending $2.75 million to improve access to mental health and reduce wait times at four of the big psychiatric hospitals – The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Toronto), Waypoint Centre for Mental Health (Penetanguishene), The Royal Ottawa (Ottawa and Brockville), and the aforementioned Ontario Shores (Whitby). He is also creating a Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Advisory Council and is “partnering” with the province’s public health units to increase awareness, fight stigma, and promote mental health in schools and in the workplace. The largest chunk of cash — $138 million over three years — will go to community service agencies to increase access to peer support groups, treatment programs, and crisis and early intervention initiatives.
Now the bad news: It’s called perspective.
$2.75 million added to those four hospitals amounts to less than half a percentage point on the nearly $650 million a year they presently spend.
The $16 million in supportive housing will be over three years, or a little more than $5 million per year. There are 8,000 people presently waiting for supportive housing – just in Toronto alone.
The amount of new money committed per year is in fact less than phase one of the mental health strategy. In the first three years, new money was supposed to escalate from $76 million annually to $93 million in the third year. In the next three years money will start at $65 million and escalate to $83 million per year by year three.
That means less new money going into mental health initiatives.
Further, it gets us precisely nowhere towards meeting the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s target of committing 9 per cent of health funding towards mental health.
In 1979 mental health in Ontario represented 11.3 per cent of provincial health spending. Today it is at 5 per cent.
Steve Lurie, Executive Director of the Toronto Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, recently pointed out that Ontario would need to invest $160 million annually in new mental health funding to set the province on an albeit lengthy path to reach the 9% target. That amount would represent a third of 1% of Ontario’s health budget, but would dramatically increase access to needed services and supports.
The new advisory council certainly has its work cut out for it.
As usual, that panel is devoid of any participation by organized labour or much in the way of front line mental health workers. What would they know dealing with patients on a day-to-day basis? There are 11 CEOs and Executive Directors on the panel, a deputy police chief, six doctors, a single nurse practitioner from the north, one “psychiatric survivor” and one Arthur Gallant.
Arthur Gallant is a self-proclaimed mental health advocate with lived experience with mental illness who has been blogging on the topic for the Huffington Post. Gallant has been a Youth Council Member on the Mental Health Commission of Canada and presently serves on a provincial collaborative advisory group at CAMH. You can meet Arthur by clicking on the video at the top of this blog, where he appears to be stocking shelves for Target. With this very staid company, Gallant will likely keep the panel interesting. We hope he serves up a good helping of his experiences on his blog.
The panel will be chaired by Susan Pigott. You may recall Pigott served on the Drummond Commission while employed as part of the senior leadership at CAMH. That Commission advocated for increased access to gambling as a way to address the government’s economic woes. Now Pigott chairs a panel that gets to deal with – among other things – the addiction fallout from that gambling. Amazing how these things come full circle.
Perhaps the Wynne government can next appoint Tim Hudak or Mike Harris to chair a panel on rebuilding public services.
The new mental health and addictions panel will provide advice on investments, promote collaboration across sectors and report annually on the strategies progress. We can hardly wait.