Nfld. & Labrador

The 'Cinderella' of health: John Haggie's goal for new money for mental health

Health Minister John Haggie is focusing on youth for the new pot of mental health care funding set to flow from Ottawa "as soon after" April 1 as possible.

Health minister says $7M a year will start flowing in April

N.L. Health Minister John Haggie says the province is closer to finalizing the plan for new mental health care funding from the federal government. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Health Minister John Haggie wants to help people in Newfoundland and Labrador with serious mental health issues before they enter a vicious cycle of cries for help and hospitalizations.

Haggie is focusing on youth and early intervention for the new mental health care funding set to flow from Ottawa "as soon after" April 1 as possible. 

But, Haggie said, mental health has long been the poor cousin to other sectors of health care spending. 

"The challenge with mental health funding is that it's always been the Cinderella of health care, and within mental health, addictions has been the Cinderella of mental health,"  he told CBC News. 

At the moment, he said, addictions management is the "acute pressure point" that requires careful attention. 

"In terms of youth mental health, some of our best long-term benefit might actually go into more preventative strategies, to deal with folk who have started to experience some difficulty but at a very early stage," said Haggie, a surgeon who served as the president of the Canadian Medical Association before entering provincial politics. 

Not much money to go around

But he said it's hard to spend in those areas when there are wait times for people already diagnosed, and very little money to go around. 

The Tuckamore Centre in Paradise is one of two residential treatment facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador for youth with complex mental health needs. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"Even though long-term the best value for money would come from preventative strategies. We've got to deal with the problem, as well as prevent for the future."

"Just as we've under funded mental health as part of health care, we've under funded prevention even more so," said Haggie. 

A dollar spent on prevention will ultimately save anywhere from $5 to $10 in treatment down the line, according to Haggie — at least according to which research you read.

"Whether the federal government want to fund prevention, or whether they want more to fund therapeutic services, is part of our ongoing dialogue," said Haggie. 

'Not all doom and gloom'

Haggie spoke with CBC News inside Eastern Health's Tuckamore Centre, a residential treatment facility for youth with complex mental health issues aged 12 to 18.

We've got to deal with the problem, as well as prevent for the future.- John Haggie

The Tuckamore Centre and its sister facility in Grand Falls-Windsor, Hope Valley, opened in 2014 to house a dozen youth at a time for roughly six months to a year. 

"They are examples of how we can do things well. And I would like people to see that, and realize that it's not all doom and gloom. Yes, we've got plenty of room for improvement, but there are some things that we are doing well," said Haggie. 

And he'd like to do even better. 

This province was among the first to sign on to a new deal with Ottawa which Haggie said will see "a fixed pot," of roughly $7 million a year, be allocated over the next decade for mental health programming — but not facilities.

It's not much money, considering there is an overall budget of $3 billion for health care in the 2016 budget. Haggie said only about five per cent of that will go to mental health.

He said the parties agree on the principle of goals for that funding, but are discussing what those specific goals will be. The funding will then be measured against the goals, "so it's not just going to disappear into some vast pot of money that you can't account for."

The agreement is for $160.7 million of new money from Ottawa over a decade, $73 million for mental health and $87.7 million for home care. 

About the Author

Meghan McCabe is a journalist who works with CBC News in St. John's.