Mental Health Plan In Limbo

Stop Obsessing over Location, Hospital President Says
Author: Jennifer O’Brien
Dec 2019
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It has been called the most significant plan to reform mental health care in a generation.

It could be a game-changer in Windsor and Essex County – where far too many people are struggling with mental illness and addictions.

But the plan to integrate mental health services – and make it less confusing for patients to get help through one access point to the system – has “gotten lost” in the public debate over the mega-hospital location, says Janice Kaffer, president of Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.

“The community needs to move past this preoccupation with where the acute care hospital is going to be situated, and concern themselves with the benefits of this plan,” she says.

“It’s about more than a mega-hospital. This opportunity to transform the mental health care system is once-in-a-lifetime.”

While the mega-hospital has dominated headlines, it is only one part of what is officially known as the Windsor-Essex Hospital System proposal, which includes integrating mental health services so that the Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare’s Tayfour campus will be the single access point for mental health and addiction.

Right now, people are often triaged from emergency departments to mental-health services at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Ouellette campus, which is an acute-care hospital and not intended for long-term, ongoing recovery relationships that are often required in the treatment of mental illness, says Kaffer.

Integrating those services at one hospital focused on mental health and addictions would “redefine” health care for those people, says Kaffer.

But it requires transferring about 60 beds – as well as staff and resources – for mental health services and addictions to Hotel-Dieu Grace from the Ouellette campus.

Integrating mental-health services at Hotel-Dieu Grace would give people experiencing mental health or addictions a “single-access point” to enter the hospital system and remain within the organization. Right now, the most common point of access to the hospital system for mental-health clients appears to be the nearest emergency department, she says.  

Having the beds at the Tayfour campus will allow mental-health clients to receive better “continuity of care,” says Kaffer.

“The whole experience would be within one or two organizations with the same philosophy,” she says. “From a patient’s lens, they don’t care who provides the care as long as it is seamless. Mental illness needs continuity and long-term care relationships.”

But those beds aren’t going anywhere until the province moves forward with the Windsor-Essex Hospitals System – something that appears to have stalled during a legal zoning battle that could impact the location of the mega-hospital.

Last year, at least 37 people in Windsor and Essex County died by suicide, and mental health workers say they continue to see high rates of stress, anxiety and depression in the region.

“This has been incredibly frustrating,” says Kaffer. “The biggest frustration is that the change in mental-health service is tied to decision making around the new acute-care hospital. We could be doing that work now.”

“This community is fixated on the location. Imagine if all of the people signing petitions about location were signing petitions saying let’s move mental-health services forward?”

Hotel-Dieu Grace’s portion of the proposal was about $130 million, which included the cost of building new space for the services. The organization is now looking at ways to bring down the cost by working within the existing infrastructure.

Separate from the Windsor-Essex Hospital System plan that has been submitted to the province, Hotel-Dieu Grace is planning for a mental health assessment centre that would be accessible to all mental health and addictions clients if they are not overdosing. “People in Windsor and Essex know we have a mental-health issue and an addictions issue,” says Kaffer. “It’s time we have a hard conversation about what we are prepared to do. Are we prepared to keep losing members of the community to suicide and overdoses?”