Once again the ministry is re-designing the system in an effort to provide better integrated health care (Patients First: A Proposal to Strengthen Patient Centred Health Care in Ontario http://bit.ly/22l7HRz). Integrating care is not a bad thing; however, if your system is underfunded to start with, no amount of re-organization will solve the problem. Ten percent of Ontarians, report that a mental health or addiction issue affected them in the previous year. That translates to over 36,000 adults in Niagara. Of these 36,000 adults, one third felt their needs were not met or only partially met.
Not knowing where to go was one of the reasons provided in a large provincial study. Luckily in Niagara we have started to address the issue of not knowing where to go. Access Line – one number to call 24/7 for all 16 mental health and addiction services in Niagara http://accesslineniagara.com/ is our local response. However, when you get to these services, you still have to contend with waiting lists, lack of psychiatry, housing shortages, lack of employment opportunities etc.
So….. Really… Why not?
Community mental health spending has increased over the past three years but it is still far below other health spending. Only 1.41 % of all ministry of health spending is for mental health. General mental health spending in Canada which includes hospital and community services, is far below many other commonwealth countries such as New Zealand and the UK which spend 10-11 per cent of every public health care dollar on mental health. In Canada we spend 7 per cent of every public health care dollar on mental health.
The dollars that have been allocated in the recent years to community mental health programs have all gone to new programs, albeit CMHA Niagara has been a beneficiary. A recent study conducted by Haldimand Norfolk CMHA and Niagara CMHA (14 of 38 agencies responded) has indicated a 23% shortfall in funding, when adjusted against inflation. Older programs and administrative supports have been starved for 8 years. The result according to our study has been cutbacks which have forced longer waiting lists and other cost reduction strategies. Integration of services, albeit needed, will not in and of itself, resolve the issue of underfunding. Neither will just more funding solve the issue adequately. We need more targeted dollars tied to programs that show evidence of success ….but….we need more funding.