Elgin Horizons — what might have been the future in mental health care

A month ago in City Scope, we talked with James Mendonca, who retired as director of the Crisis and Relapse Prevention Service (CRPS) in St. Thomas in 2003.
At the time, he warned the crisis portion of the service housed at Regional Mental Health Care, St. Thomas will soon be eliminated and crisis calls will now be fielded by the local Canadian Mental Health Association office, resulting in a fragmented service in lieu of the multi-disciplinary integrated service that has admirably served St. Thomas and Elgin residents for more than 30 years.

Mendonca estimated there are currently about 1,500 individuals who benefit from CRPS.
These services are suited to persons with a wide range of disorders like anxiety and depressive disorders which affect in excess of 15 per cent of the general population and have been offered within a one-stop system following the initial crisis event, Mendonca explained.
To pick up further on that conversation, Mendonca noted a decade ago, when the province and the Thames Valley District Health Council were considering restructuring mental health services in Elgin, several plans were floated to deal with the future of the psychiatric hospital.
One of those, known as Elgin Horizons, called for a stand-alone community service linked to St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital.
According to Mendonca, who helped author the proposal, it would have offered a service similar to the existing CRPS and would assist the hospital with its bed-based psychiatric care.
The scheme received extensive support from the political and medical community and would have seen STEGH upgraded to Schedule 1 status under the Mental Health Act whereby patients could be admitted to the facility for a three-day period.
Elgin Horizons received such high praise that in July, 2000, Sandy Whittall, chairman of Thames Valley District Health Council wrote Elizabeth Witmer, then minister of health and long-term care, to recommend the province support and fund Elgin Horizons.
“Following careful review, council decided that the proposal was consistent with its intent to ensure appropriate community services are in place in Elgin county prior to the decommissioning of the St. Thomas Provincial Psychiatric Hospital site,” wrote Whittall.
“Council wishes to once again stress the need for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to reallocate funds from the closure of the St. Thomas Provincial Psychiatric Hospital to St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital for the operation of a 17-bed Schedule 1 facility and to community mental services.”
This proposal died with the election of the Ernie Eves government in 2002, noted Mendonca, and the folding of the district health council that resulted.

The Elgin Business Resource Centre is a popular destination of late, so much so manager John Regan has pitched Elgin county council on the merits of applying to the provincial government for the creation of a small business enterprise centre.
Inquiries at the centre are expected to jump to around 2,300 in 2009, up from 1,700 last year, as more individuals look to start their own business since they don’t qualify for Employment Insurance or their benefits have run out.
The proposed centre would provide consultations, workshops and seminars, networking and administration of youth business programs.
It’s called entrepreneurship and Elgin county council recognizes the value of such individual creativity which complements objectives in its five-year economic development plan.
So much so that it is willing to provide $10,000 in funding annually to support the project. Make that $20,000 if St. Thomas takes a flyer on participating in this progressive initiative.
City council is aware of the county’s request to enter into a partnership in the small business enterprise centre. It’s response — toss the ball over to the Economic Development Corp.
The very same organization with the plagarized game plan mentioned in this corner last month which examines “its current and future economic opportunities and positioning.”
Contained within that document is a call to “attract Lone Eagles to the community.”
Sounds like this a perfect fit with the county’s supportive stance on the small business enterprise centre and you would think the EDC would quickly encourage city council to ante up $10,000 annually to support economic diversity through individual entrepreneurship.
Or will petty politics, in the form of an us-versus-them mentality, rear its ugly head again.

How unfortunate Central Elgin and the city can’t forge a partnership to operate a transit service down Sunset to Regional Mental Health Care, St. Thomas.
Surely there must be dollars available in the gas tax funding provided to municipalities that would allow for an extension of existing service to such an important employer/mental health service provider in the community which is so near and yet so very far away as the bus travels.

Director of parks and recreation Kent McVittie is moving on to greener pastures next month as he assumes a similar position in Cambridge, Ontario.
In a conversation this week with the T-J, McVittie noted his predecessor is not leaving the municipality, but instead is being rewarded for his outstanding efforts and is being promoted — wait for it — to the position of CAO.
What delicious irony.
Now, let’s adopt the same progressive approach to management in St. Thomas and promote city clerk Wendell Graves to the seat at the table he so rightly deserves — CAO.
The timing and motivation couldn’t be better.

“I think the sad part is, to break something just for the sake of breaking it is really pathetic. It’s tragic for the family. It’s really sad somebody would do this.”
Al Hughson, a director with the Memory Garden Foundation, on damage inflicted on the Matt Mailing sculpture earlier this week in Pinafore Park.

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

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