If ever there were evidence to suggest its time the government abandon the mental health bed targets set out in the 1990s Health Restructuring Commission, it is the skyrocketing encounters between police and Ontarians with mental illness.
According to the Toronto Star this weekend, Mental Health Act apprehensions have skyrocketed in the Ontario capital from 520 in 1997 to 8,441 in 2013.
Police can apprehend someone with mental illness if they pose a threat to themselves or others or are unable to care for themselves.
The Star notes that mental health funding has declined since the 1970s when it represented 11.3 per cent of total public health care spending. Today Ontario sits at 7 per cent – slightly below the national average of 7.2 per cent and a great distance from the goal of the Mental Health Commission of Canada to increase the share to 9 per cent. Even that recommendation is presently below what many developed countries are spending.
It’s clear from the numbers that we didn’t substitute community care for institutional care – we mostly just eliminated mental health care.
Now the results are there for everyone to see.
Reflecting on two years of “progress” under Ontario’s Health Action Plan, Health Minister Deb Matthews published her list of “accomplishments” in an on-line pamphlet posted in January.
After two years there’s not a lot to show.
Some of the list of accomplishments have not actually happened yet – such as passing legislation that will require chain restaurants to post calorie counts and other nutritional information on their menus.
Thankfully neither have they yet “moved procedures into the community” through a dubious plan to run competitions for hospital services such as endoscopies and cataract surgeries. Given hospitals are allowed to compete with private clinics for their own services, it is theoretically possible that no procedures could be moved into the community – although we doubt it.
Local 152 President Kim McDowell in St. Thomas yesterday with OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.
To be a patient here you not only have to have a mental disorder, but to have come in conflict with the law.
The Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care opened in St. Thomas last year as the first phase of a two-part restructuring of mental health services in the region. The second part, a new psychiatric hospital in London, is expected to open in 2015. Both are public-private partnerships (P3), placing a private corporation in charge of the facilities but not the clinical services delivered within them.
Touring the facility yesterday with OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Local 152 President Kim McDowell, we asked about worker safety in the new building as a specific concern was being raised about a door to a seclusion room that forced staff to bend over to look through a waist-high opening used to pass through medications.
Despite its forensic designation, this may possibly be the safest psychiatric hospital in the province. As we were told, there are very few “codes” here – codes being emergency broadcasts used within the hospital to summons help or raise an alert.