Talent Canada
Talent Canada

Features Workplace Mental Health Mental Health
Ontario launches new mental health strategy, creates new agency

Opposition critics say plan lacks details, concerns raised about funding levels


March 4, 2020
By Talent Canada Staff

Topics
Photo: Getty Images

Ontario is launching a new agency as it overhauls the mental health system in the province, but it’s not being met with universal praise and applause because of concerns over funding.

The  agency — which the government has likened to Cancer Care Ontario — will help co-ordinate care, standardize treatment and assess where problems exist in the system,  said Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health.

“The centre will serve as the foundation upon which the road map to wellness is built,” she said. “It will drive the broad and systematic transformation we need.”

The new roadmap

Advertisment

The Roadmap to Wellness: A Plan to Build Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions System, will provide a clear path towards easier access to higher-quality care and supports, said Elliott.

“By improving the availability and quality of mental health and addictions supports, and by better connecting Ontarians with these services, this new roadmap will help us build healthier communities by alleviating growing pressures on our hospitals and, in doing so, significantly support our goal of ending hallway health care,”  she said.

Ontario has been holding consultations with experts, grassroots organizations, health-care providers and first responders — as well as people with lived experience and their families, it said.

Funding

Premier Doug Ford’s government has promised to spend $1.9 billion on mental health and addiction services over the next decade — a commitment the federal government says it will match.

Elliott provided few details about how much the plan will cost, but the government has said more details will be included in the spring budget later this month.

The plan announced Tuesday will also provide access to cognitive behavioural therapy designed to treat people struggling with anxiety or depression — a program called Mindability.

The government said that program will cost $20 million when it launches this spring and aims to treat 80,000 people annually when fully-implemented in three to four years.

Cautious praise from mental health providers

In a joint statement, a number of public mental health providers, including hospitals, praised Elliott for the commitment but said it must be followed by a fully-funded plan to cut wait times.

The groups, which include Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO), said they estimate $380 million in new annual funding is urgently needed to begin to reduce wait times for children and youth, people with complex needs and to boost supportive housing.

“Investments in expansion of front-line services must be a priority, particularly at this time when hospitals are strained and the community sector is struggling with extremely long wait-lists,” the groups said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, the association representing Ontario’s publicly funded child and youth mental health centres, released a report that said wait times for children and youth mental health services have more than doubled in two years.

That study found 28,000 children and youth are currently on wait-lists for treatment across the province, up from approximately 12,000 in 2017.

Plan lacks details: NDP

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Progressive Conservative government’s new plan lacked details. She called on the government to restore $330 million in mental health funding the previous Liberal government had committed to in its final budget before the 2018 election.

“It’s easy to make announcements, and we’ve unfortunately seen this with governments in the past,” Horwath said. “That’s how our mental health crisis has grown. Follow-through doesn’t ever occur.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he is also troubled by the lack of funding specifics in the announcement.

“My concern is the government doesn’t seem to want to put any money behind their mental health plan,” he said. “Under this government’s watch, wait times for mental health services are ballooning. They’ve more than doubled for youth.”

The new centre

The new Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence within Ontario Health will serve as the foundation on which Roadmap to Wellness is built. The centre will be the coordinating, central provincial body that will leverage this experience to enable and drive the effective implementation of the plan’s four pillars:

  1. Improving quality;
  2. Expanding existing services;
  3. Implementing innovative solutions; and
  4. Improving access.

Taken together, along with a comprehensive wait times strategy, these pillars will help build a system that puts the patient at the centre of care and drives down unacceptably high wait times for services, the government pledged.

Mindability

Ontario will launch Mindability, a first-of-its-kind in Canada program that will provide evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy to equip Ontarians aged 10 and up with the lifelong skills they need to manage their mental health and overall well-being.

After receiving an assessment from a trained mental health clinician, an eligible individual will be offered a therapy program that addresses their level of need to support their recovery. The types of services available will include internet-based modules, personal workbooks, telephone coaching and clinical counseling, as well as face-to-face, group and individual therapy. Mindability will be funded just like OHIP with no out-of-pocket costs for patients. It will roll out starting in spring 2020 with further expansion planned in the fall, the province said.

Online help

Any person living in Ontario will be able to call, text or go online to learn more or get help by using:

  • A toll-free phone number accessible across the province; and
  • A website with an online chat function and client resources.

Ontario is in the process of finalizing plans for the implementation of one number to call. As a first step, in spring 2020 a single number will provide streamlined access to Telehealth Ontario’s nine health information and advice programs. The province expects to begin expansion to include other services, including certain mental health services, in fall 2020, with phased expansion thereafter.

Ontarians will also have access to in-person mental health and addictions navigation support through regional access points established across Ontario and through their local Ontario Health Team, which will better integrate mental health and addictions supports between hospitals, primary care providers and community service providers.

Building on the extensive consultations that informed the development of Roadmap to Wellness, Ontario will continue to engage with system partners to help guide the effective implementation of this plan. As these long overdue improvements are made, Ontario will invest to fill urgent gaps in care to address the significant and debilitating wait times that currently exist in the system.

Quick facts from the province

  • The government will invest $20 million in 2020 to launch Mindability. This program will build on the work over the last three years by four regional network hubs, including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, as well as a provincial bibliotherapy centre administered by the Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario that offers Ontarians self-directed mental health support materials and books with complementary coaching and clinical support.
  • To enable Roadmap to Wellness, Ontario is investing $3.8 billion over 10 years to create new services and expand programs. The province has started to fill urgent gaps in care as identified by system partners through immediate investments, including $174 million more in annualized funding for mental health and addictions programs in 2019-20.
  • To develop Roadmap to Wellness, the government is listening to clients, caregivers and sector experts. The province has had conversations with hundreds of Ontarians, including discussion sessions in communities across the province and input from people with experience and expertise in Indigenous mental health and addictions, Francophones, municipalities, associations and justice system representatives. Continuing to engage with system partners, including Indigenous communities and other communities with unique needs, will help guide the effective implementation of the plan.

with files from the Canadian Press