Loss of mental health beds a “downward spiral”

Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum

In City Scope last week, a reader familiar with programs now delivered at Regional Mental Health Care – St. Thomas called to advise the $900,000 investment by the province to proceed with planning for a 15-bed mental health unit in St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital will, in fact, impact negatively on the community.
The existing facility currently houses 23 assessment beds on top of numerous other beds required by the community. That is in addition to a full out-patient department with staff and doctors who will be will be impacted.
The community has no idea what is coming down the pipeline for mental health services in St. Thomas and it’s a pretty scary outlook, she cautioned.
Those comments prompted responses from a union spokesperson and the vice-president of mental health programs at Regional Mental Health Care London and St. Thomas.
“We have a significant number of people at St. Thomas (workers and allied staff) who will be affected by the bed losses over the next number of years,” cautioned Kim McDowell president, local 152 Regional Mental Health Care London and St. Thomas in a phone call this week.
St. Thomas will retain 89 forensic beds and the rest of the facilities in the city will be closed, McDowell advises.
“The plan appears to be those displaced will be placed in the community. There is no significant funding for affordable housing for them, nor sufficient staff working in the community or money designated for that,” she explained.
A lot of those patients will fall through the cracks, she warned. A new 156-bed facility is to be opened at Parkwood Hospital in London, but that won’t happen for a number of years.
The 15 new beds at STEGH will be the total for St. Thomas to maintain, noted McDowell.
“The patients we deal with are going to be uprooted and brought out of their own community settings making it more difficult for them to deal with new staff.”
Staffing in London and St. Thomas currently runs at around 1,400, she said, and that could be reduced to 700 or so.
“The process will take four or five years, but staff losses will begin in the next two or three years.”
We can’t support what’s happening right now, McDowell stressed.
“We need to be standing up and speaking out against this. It’s just a downhill spiral. The community at large needs to stop and look and be very aware of what information they are receiving and filter through it and get to the root issues – there is going to be a significant amount of staff out of this facility, there will be patients in the community that will not be supported in the proactive manner under our Human Rights Code – and that needs to be addressed.”
Kristine Diaz, vice-president of mental health programs at Regional Mental Health Care London and St. Thomas wrote to City Scope on Wednesday to advise, “new acute mental health care beds at St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital will not ultimately cause the closure of St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health Care facility, St. Thomas/Central Elgin.”
Next week in this corner we will present her comments in their entirety.

Municipal consultant and author George Cuff is no stranger to the pages of City Scope, having been quoted on numerous occasions.
Exactly two years ago we referred to his comment, “Meaningful leadership by council does not simply happen. It takes considerable thought and absolute commitment to focus on the perceived significant matters that will affect the long-term well-being of the community.”
In the May, 2005 issue of Municipal World, he wrote a mayor is not elected to manage the municipality.
“This is not a position that one takes on because of vast experience in local government or in senior positions in industry or the public sector, he stressed. A mayor, quite simply, is elected to lead. There are substantive differences.
“Any mayor who assumes the functions and prerogatives of a chief administrative officer is not only guilty of undermining the most important administrative linkage a council has to its staff, but also lessens the potential positive impact that a political leader can impart to the community.”
It is not possible to do well at both positions concurrently, advised Cuff. One or both will inevitably suffer, and in most instances, it will be both.
“Thus, and for example, while various mayors have felt and operated otherwise, a mayor should not expect to attend meetings of management or, even worse, chair such meetings,” Cuff continued.
“A mayor should not be recommending the purchase of this or that tractor, grader or computer system based upon their inspection of such products at municipal trade shows. The foregoing examples (drawn from real-life) are – or at least should be – the prerogative of management.”
If the relationship between the mayor and the CAO is based on mutual trust, noted Cuff, and where a mayor feels that the CAO should be addressing administrative issues somewhat differently, such advice or insights can be appropriately offered, on the basis of “here is what I see from my perspective. You may want to think about this.”
Remember this key point presented by Cuff – any mayor who assumes the functions of a CAO will undermine the link between council and staff.
St. Thomas is living proof of that.

“I’m absolutely, completely disappointed with the Canadian judicial system with regard to the Sutherland Press building. I guess you just wait until you get a judge that agrees with you and it’ll take you months and months to find one.”
As is the case with Alma College, Mayor Cliff Barwick shifts responsibility for the six-month legal wrangling over the downtown structure and the closing of a stretch of Talbot Street, away from city administrators and staff.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.


One thought on “Loss of mental health beds a “downward spiral”

  1. At a time when mental health problems in general can be expected to increase due to the stress people experience in coping with loss of employment and the attendant difficulties become overwhelming, society is saving money by closing beds, reducing staff and putting patients (oops! Should I be saying “clients?”) into the community.

    And before I stand accused of intolerance, let me say that we fixed up our house many years ago in order to take in recovering patients on their way back into society. No, my complaint is that some (not all) patients require permanent and stable environs which can only like be provided by institutions, as well as temporary quarters geared to shelter patients on their way back to the community, as well as community centres for recreation, as well as supervised apartments, as well as…you name it.

    What no one needs is to be left to cope with problems by oneself. But that is what will happen as the government saves money by closing facilities like the St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital and trying to compensate by giving the Elgin General a few bed spaces in its place. As the government funding becomes tighter and tighter for Health facilities, Mental Health will be the first thing to be cut of in order to meet budget requirements. Physical health and mental health are two entirely different aspects of living in general, and should not be set into a competitive mode within the same institution.

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