The 2017-2018 provincial budget consultations have begun. One of the key issues for our sector, not surprisingly, is funding. We are used to stretching resources but the rubber band will snap back on us soon if the government doesn’t treat the issue seriously.

In a ten year review for the Niagara branch, the cumulative Consumer Price Index increase was 20.08%, while over those ten years our major funder, the HNHB LHIN, provided cumulative base budget increases of 10.32%. Resources shrinking at that rate implicate dire consequences for us and other agencies in the same situation. In a recent local survey, reduced or eliminated training was one of the top methods that agencies employed to keep up with funding pressures. In a field that is dependent on continually evolving research and best practice, this is not a good scenario for our clients. Travel restrictions, reduced management and 0% wage increases were other cost reduction strategies used by the survey participants.

Yes, this branch has had growth almost every year of its existence, but in the recent history this has been tied to specific programs, not overall budget increases. Newer programs such as Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team are established while older programs such as Community Support suffer continuous decline. This is not unique to our agency, it happens throughout the province.

In the 2012 Drummond Report Executive Summary, it was pointed out that our sector is chronically underfunded. In Canada, we underinvest in our mental health sector relative to its overall health budget and we definitely underinvest in our community sector.

This has to change.

Consequently, CMHA Ontario is asking the province for a 3% base budget increase to its branches. This is not a lot to ask for a sector that provides most of the mental health care in Ontario. We can’t stretch anymore.