Mental health services in Windsor-Essex stretched, need more money

The increased demand for mental health programs continues to rise in Windsor-Essex, but the level of funding is leaving holes in the system. In an election year, officials are demanding the politicians offer some solutions.

Mental health service providers in Windsor-Essex looking to the election for solutions

Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare's CEO, Janice Kaffer is asking for $3 million to help with mental health services. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

The increased demand for mental health programs continues to rise in Windsor-Essex, but the level of funding is leaving holes in the system.

Officials running programs in the city say more money would mean more access to help sooner.

Right now, the strain on the mental health system is demonstrated through some simple numbers:

  • Six clinical staff deal with hundreds of visits each month at the Transitional Stability Centre. 
  • Windsor Regional Hospital says it needs six more psychiatrists to help with primary care.
  • More funding would mean Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare could use the 89 empty beds at that facility. 

More staff needed

Ever since opening its doors in 2016, the Transitional Stability Centre has seen a 30 per cent increase in volume, according to Robert Moroz, the integrated director with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The centre saw a second increase in volume when the Crisis Centre moved into the office in January.

Crisis workers in the building have handled 5,099 cases and received 17,077 calls from April 2017 to February 2018. Since the program opened its location the site has discharged 590 people.

"We're seeing some evidence now that the volumes going to the emergency rooms are going down for mental health services, so our crisis worker in the ER is seeing less and less cases now," he said.

In January, 92 individuals visited the centre 480 times. Last month, there were 93 individuals and 381 visits. 

Robert Moroz, the integrated director with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and the Canadian Mental Health Association would like to hire more people so they can get out and help people in the county. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

The high volume of clients means sometimes they wait a few hours to see someone. Moroz plans to find a way to fix that problem through scheduling and "other means," but remains confident that everyone who comes in will be seen the same day.

"You will have a plan and you will know what is going to be happening next," he said.

Experts here say programs like this are unique to the province with high demands and staff working hard to keep up. The Transitional Support Centre has a multi-disciplinary team including a nurse, counselors and social workers.

Members of the intake centre at the Transitional Stability Centre wait on calls. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"The idea behind this program was to have something that could bring people together to provide service for the client on site, as opposed to sending the client around," said Moroz.

Getting into the county

More money would give them a chance to get out into the community more. The Downtown Mission and some downtown rest homes have asked for more on-site services. The Transitional Stability Centre offers some psychiatric services there, but want to do more complete treatment.

"There's a whole county we serve and we need to get out there as well, so Leamington is an area with some needs, there's others in Essex County as well," Moroz said.

In the future, the centre plans to have a general psychiatric clinic, injection clinic for mental health patients to receive their medication and an early intervention program from the Canadian Mental Health Association.

"We can link them up to a variety of services here, while we're also doing some initial work," he said. 

More psychiatrists

The Transitional Stability Centre helps people in the community, but when they need ongoing care they go to Windsor Regional Hospital.

Dr. Raj Basker, chief of mental health department with Windsor Regional Hospital is looking to hire more psychiatrists. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Dr. Raj Basker, chief for the mental health department, wants to hire six more psychiatrists both for the hospital and for community care.

"In terms of mental health, I think the most important part is primary care intervention," he said.

Many of those with mental health issues can see their primary doctor but getting into a specialist can mean an eight- or nine-month wait, said Basker.

"[For] an illness that doesn't get treated, sometimes the specialists interaction is very crucial. It gets worse and the disorder gets too bad and they have to get into the hospital and it is very, very tough," he said.

Hiring more psychiatrists would help with both the acute psychiatric issues and contribute to the community for primary care intervention.

"If we don't ask, no one will be talking about it," - Janice  Kaffer ,  Hotel-Dieu  Grace Healthcare CEO

The hospital deals with all types of mental illness with close to 50 per cent of patients suffering from schizophrenia, other psychotic illnesses and drug issues.

"We have to recognize those illnesses that are [at a] very early stage, providing adequate therapies and also having specialist input for early intervention is important. That helps a lot of a shorter recovery," he said.

500 kids on wait-list for childrens' mental health

Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare CEO Janice Kaffer is asking the province for $3 million to help with mental health services.

"If we don't ask, no one will be talking about it," she said.

The Regional Children's Centre hasn't had an increase in funding in at least 10 years. It provides a range of services from brief treatments to more intense management for kids.

"The concern we have is the number of children that are waiting and how long they're waiting," Kaffer said.

There are 500 kids on the centre's wait list. There are also 89 beds at Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare sitting empty.

Eighty-nine empty beds

Sixteen of those beds are in the Toldo Neurobehavioural Institute which Kaffer said are open and ready for use but are being used for storage because of a lack of funding for staff and patients. She said the institute operates at 100 per cent capacity "all the time."

"We want to use those beds, but we want to use them for behavioural care for older people who can't get into long term care because their behaviours are so problematic," Kaffer said.

There are 73 beds in the Emara building which are vacant because, over the past five years, patients have moved into long-term care facilities. 

Not being able to use these open beds is "frustrating on multiple levels" for Kaffer.

"I think it represents a bit of the shift in health care in some ways," she said.

The system has pressures on acute care rather than post-acute care. There is less than 100 per cent occupancy for HDGH's complex medical beds but those beds could be used in rehab, where there is almost 100 per cent occupancy all of the time.

"What we need is some innovating program to use the rest of those beds," Kaffer said. "The fact that they're open and available is an opportunity for government."

A proposed Mental Health Ministry

Part of the provincial NDP platform calls for a stand-alone ministry to work on metal health and addiction.

"We have 12,000 youth across the province waiting for mental health support because of lack of support to the community organizations and hospitals," said Windsor-West MPP Lisa Gretzky.

She said this ministry would provide a more focused look on mental health and addiction, which would have specific funding to help with those issues and eliminate wait times and get the services when they need them, rather than when they're in crisis.

The Ontario Liberal Party said in a statement that the government needs to be responsive to families who are struggling with the costs, both financial and emotional of care an a loved one dealing with mental health issues. They say the government has provided $3.7 billion in annual funding to mental health.

"We have committed to put forward an additional more than $1.9 billion to help people access mental health and addictions services."

CBC also reached out the Ontario PC party, but no one responded to calls.

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