Home for people with mental illness faces closure

One of the province's largest facilities for people with mental illness is facing an uncertain future.

One of the province's largest facilities for people with mental illness is facing an uncertain future.

Oliver House, in Caledon, Ont., just north of Toronto, could be shut down as early as Friday if it fails to comply with changes ordered after a fire inspection.

Jacqueline Corbett, who has run Oliver House for the past 20 years, says the house is perfectly safe and the fire inspectors are enforcing the wrong regulations.

The house is home to about 50 people with mental disabilities, but Corbett says the Caledon fire department is asking it to meet the same fire code standards as nursing homes where residents cannot move around without help.

The residents at Oliver House do not have any physical impairments, she said.

"[It's] completely discriminatory against individuals who suffer from mental illnesses," Corbett said.

During fire drills the house has been evacuated in less than three minutes - even in the middle of the night. 

The tougher fire rules would require four staff to be awake around the clock.

The Ontario ministry of health thinks the regulations are unfair and something that is demanded of no other group home in Ontario.

"[The] home is being jeopardized because of a misinterpretation [by] a fire department that does not have a medical basis or an understanding of what mental illness is," said Corbett. 

Caledon Mayor Marolyn Morrison says enforcing the regulations is "a matter of safety."

She says she stands behind the fire department's ruling. "We have to rely on the expertise of the people we hire and that's what we're relying on."

The fire chief says he'll start enforcing the tighter rules as early as Friday. 

The home could face stiff fine, or possible closure if it fails to comply. 

Michael Koo, of the advocacy group The Dream Team, says the decision demonstrates a lack of understanding of mental health issues.

"We went to tour Oliver House last week and we were really impressed. Every door is about three steps away from afire exit, they continuosly show that they can get everyone out of the house in three minutes.  It's very safe," said Koo.