Protesting outside of Kingston’s Providence Care September 9.
KINGSTON – Tracey Newton has worked at the old Kingston Psychiatric Hospital for 25 years. In that time she has seen many changes, including the tightening of access to the hospital’s services for those in the community that need help.
She arrived early at McBurney Park on September 2nd for the local march and picnic celebrating Labour Day. As the labour activists arrived, the homeless departed the park, including some of her former patients who had clearly spent the night there.
In our heightened skeptical age it is too convenient to dismiss workers as being self-interested, but it was clear speaking with Newton yesterday that the encounter was upsetting. With another 40 beds due to close, how many more former patients are now going to be sleeping rough?
The mantra in mental health has been community care, not institutional care. It has given the government the cover to make massive cuts to beds and outpatient services delivered by the province’s psychiatric hospitals.
It hasn’t meant replacing the scale and scope of these services in the community.
Kingston’s Providence Care is getting squeezed by more than bed reductions associated with the outdated planning associated with new semi-privatized replacement hospital.
They are seeing more developmentally disabled patients admitted to these beds, likely part of the consequence of closing the former Rideau Regional Centre in Smith’s Falls. Those patients too were supposed to be better off the in the community, but here they are.
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.
When Ontario last drafted a strategic plan for the delivery of comprehensive mental health services, the Mental Health Commission of Canada didn’t even exist.
Today we are still implementing mental health recommendations from Ontario’s Health Restructuring Commission issued in 1998. Much of the basis for that report would have come from data generated in the mid to early 1990s. That’s about 20 years ago. None of the recommendations contained in last year’s national strategy would have been in play. Nor would the health restructuring commission have been faced with the more recent and alarming projections on the rise in dementia anticipated by the Alzheimer’s Society. Nor would they have known about the links between mental illness and rising levels of economic inequality, or that Canada under the Harper government would pursue such a reckless path to the point where levels of inequality are rising faster here than most other developed nations on the planet.
That’s a long time to pursue a single plan, especially without any evaluation in-between to see how implementation has been working.
There is likely reluctance on the part of the province to do such an evaluation because it is so self-evident that it is not working. Even the all-party legislative committee looking at mental health could see the huge challenges before us and had their own lengthy list of reforms – most of which never emerged off the pages of their final 2010 report.
When David Caplan briefly sat in the Health Minister’s chair, he did promise a new 10-year mental health plan for Ontario. We never got it. Instead Health Minister Deb Matthews’ concern never extended beyond a plan for children and youth that is now in its final year of implementation. Nobody knows what comes next. They are certainly not consulting the front line workers that have to pick up the pieces of failed policy initiatives.
Part of the problem of that original 1998 plan is that the government only followed half the advice. They stuck doggedly to the bed cuts at the province’s psychiatric hospitals, but were less interested in providing equivalent scale services in the community. Nor were they interested in ensuring the services first existed before making the bed cuts.
KINGSTON – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is supporting the Kingston community plebiscite campaign by sponsoring a new television commercial to air over the next two weeks on CKWS-TV.
Produced with the Kingston Health Coalition, the commercial urges community members to vote April 13 on whether or not they want the proposed new psychiatric/rehab hospital to remain fully public.
Ontario is using the controversial public-private partnership model to replace the aging St. Mary’s Of The Lake and Providence Care hospitals. That means the hospital will be designed, built, financed and maintained for 30 years by a private for-profit consortium.
“At a time when the government is telling us they have no money we can’t understand why the Wynne government would want to proceed with a far more expensive method of replacing these hospitals,” says Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the 130,000 member OPSEU.
When the Auditor General of Ontario looked at Brampton’s William Osler Health Centre privatization in 2008, he concluded that the higher rate of interest paid by the private sector added about $200 million to the cost of the project. He also noted that $28 million in transaction costs were added as a result of using the P3 method. Both of these issues would be factors in the decision to build the new Kingston hospital.
OPSEU has also done the only study of its kind in Canada looking at the impact of P3s on the day-to-day functioning of a public hospital. Examining the Royal Ottawa Health Centre a year after it opened as a P3, the OPSEU reports noted additional costs to clinical budgets and frustration among workers who have little control over their physical environment.