Loss of mental health care beds and jobs to ensure balanced budget

Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum

Over the past two weeks this corner has delved into the future of mental health care beds in St. Thomas, with the prospect of hundreds of jobs lost over the next five years, according to Kim McDowell president, local 152 Regional Mental Health Care London and St. Thomas.
In a letter to City Scope, the integrated vice-president of mental health programs for Regional Mental Health Care London and St. Thomas advises new acute mental health care beds planned for St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital will not ultimately cause the closure of the St. Thomas facility.

“Among a range of specialized mental health programs,” writes Kristine Diaz, “our facility provides acute mental health services for Elgin county, which is a role normally carried out by acute care hospitals, not facilities such as ours, which does not have a full-service emergency department.
“This has been a longstanding unique circumstance in our local health care system.”
As part of the Health Services Restructuring Commission directives in 1997, points out Diaz, acute mental health services have long been planned to shift from the existing facility to STEGH.
“Recent funding announcements are enabling our colleagues at STEGH to prepare for their new role, but it will be some time before these changes can occur.”
This shift is only one part of the transformation of the mental health care system in southwestern Ontario, she adds.
“We applaud the province for stepping forward with much-needed new investment for this step, which will help people to be cared for in the most appropriate setting and closer to home.”
For this area, further investment in mental health care will come in the form of a new forensic psychiatry facility, which in addition to improving care, will offer construction and other economic benefits, stresses Diaz, who notes a second specialized mental health care facility will be built in London.
“There is no doubt that changes to the system will impact where some of our current employees work. The actual number of jobs that will leave St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health Care facilities is not known. Some jobs will shift to other care providers in our local community and to other communities in the region.”
Diaz explains the size of inpatient facilities will also be reduced in keeping with the provincial vision of providing care in home and community, as appropriate.
“And, as always, we need to ensure balanced budgets along the way,” reminds Diaz.
As for future jobs, Diaz advises, “we do know that there will always be a need for health care professionals to choose mental health care as their calling, whether in hospital, clinic, research or community team settings.
“We are facing an aging workforce and this, coupled with the need for more students to choose mental health as their area of specialty, creates ongoing recruitment needs in areas such as nursing and psychiatry.”
The facility and service changes as a result of the restructuring commission recommendations have been long in coming, she reminds, and “we remain committed to staff and community engagement before changes occur.”
In closing, notes Diaz, “we recognize the difficult employment and economic challenges St. Thomas/Elgin and other communities are facing. We hope that further investment in mental health care and our health system as a whole will ensure a strong, viable health system for the future and contribute to the vitality of this great community.”

Too many empty seats in a $12.1 million facility with a growing list of defects and deficiencies and a department seemingly devoid of direction have chased Ald. Bill Aarts from chairmanship of the community services committee.
Behind closed doors Monday, Aarts stepped down and handed the reigns of the parks and recreation department over to Ald. David Warden, effective Jan. 1.
It’s a department where attention is urgently required, beginning right at the top.
In return, Aarts will assume chairmanship of the protective services and transportation committee, which includes the Police Services Board.
However in a side note that speaks volumes, Aarts will not sit on the committee charged to investigate a new location for the police headquarters — that remains the domain of Warden.
A closer look at the 2009 committee lineup, available on the city website at reveals Ald. Tom Johnston has stepped down as council representative on the primary and secondary water boards.
Back in October, Johnston wondered aloud if all members of council have the same workload.
Clearly not, in this case.

“It is important to note that a reduction in the overall number of inpatient beds in our mental health care system does not mean a reduction in service for Elgin residents. Part of the new facility planning includes a robust model for outpatient services for the region. Elgin residents will also continue to have access to programs in London.”
In a letter to City Scope, Kristine Diaz, integrated vice-president of mental health programs for Regional Mental Health Care London and St. Thomas, confirms there will be bed and job losses in St. Thomas when mental health care restructuring is fully implemented.

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


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