By Sue Tiffin
Help for people in need of mental health and addiction support is coming to the county, so they don’t need to leave the county to get help.
Four new mobile mental health clinics aimed at offering support directly to people living in remote, rural and undeserved communities across Ontario were announced by the province at a press conference in Peterborough on Oct. 28. The mobile clinic will park in easily-accessible spots in communities on a regular basis, bringing a multidisciplinary team of mental health and addictions service providers to offer intake and brief services, referrals to existing services, and psychiatric support and follow-up closer to people in outlying areas. One of those buses will be dedicated to supporting people in Haliburton County and City of Kawartha Lakes through the Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge.
“The transportation issues, absolutely, are one of the largest barriers we have to providing care in Haliburton County,” Jack Veitch, CMHA-HKPR manager of community engagement and education told the Times. “I can say that with confidence, that people have real difficulty even being able to make it to appointments. One of the benefits of [the pandemic] was that we had more virtual options for them, but we know it’s not the same. Mental health care is often done most effectively face-to-face. We need that face-to-face opportunity and truthfully it’s not fair that many major urban centres continue to get the funding and the programming, and that’s why this announcement was huge, to say that, oh, wait, we’re targeting rural community-based mental health, finally. Finally.”
Veitch said the program, modelled on the privately-funded MOBYSS walk-in clinic already operating in York Region and South Simcoe, offers a renovated RV with specialized medical equipment and clinics.
“Imagine if you took your local health centre, put it on wheels, and just drove around and parked it in different places,” he said. “You’ve got clinicians, and therapists and health care experts right there, so you don’t have to drive to one centralized location. It can come to you.”
The mobile clinic will also offer telemedicine clinics, and can be followed by a car so that the health care team can make home visits where needed.
“You see grant after grant after funding announcement, more toward hospitals, more toward patient care, more toward major urban centres, and not to say that isn’t valuable, but it’s forgotten so often the real, community-based mental health,” said Veitch. “Going into people’s homes where they are at in their communities, and meeting them where they’re at, where they’re most vulnerable or struggling the most, being able to get outreach to them is going to prove so valuable.”
Veitch said he believes “wholeheartedly the uptake on this program will be very, very high,” in Haliburton County.
“It’s a program that will benefit exactly that type of catchment, and that’s the design, to target rural populations that are missed,” he said. “Haliburton, of all the four counties we serve, is the perfect example of why this bus program needs to be done. Because you think about how sparse and remote – Dorset and West Guilford and Wilberforce – how far are these people having to drive in just to get an hour appointment? Now we’ve got services going out to them and parking in these locations, making things accessible. This is super exciting, at least from my perspective.”
Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, spoke with the Times last Thursday. He said one of his concerns after becoming minister was how he would deliver services in remote communities, a challenge he said that “really hit home” for him after a visit to Thunder Bay and Red Rock, which he said “wasn’t even on the map” and with road signs noting the next city was 450 kilometres, and then 850 kilometres away.
“So I was scratching my head saying, how am I ever going to be able to deliver quality services to all of the people in Ontario when I have these vast distances that have to be covered, and some communities are small, we don’t have funding for bricks and mortar,” he said. Soon after, seeing the MOBYSS in action, he was inspired to launch the mobile units.
“The outcomes are going to be measured very quickly as to the impact it has on our hospitals, because people really will be getting care close to home and not need to be using the emergency rooms, and of course the other outcome is how they feel after having these services delivered to them, the number of people are going to access them, and what the outcomes are based on their review of the process once they’re engaged in it,” he said.
“This is for me exciting because I know there is a huge need,” he said. “I am convinced – I will go on record now – by saying these will be incredibly successful based on what I’ve seen in the operation with York and South Simcoe, this is not being set up to be a one-time deal. This is in our multi-year planning, and so our intention is to fund these and to move them … I think what you’ll find is that this is a foundational piece that will allow us to do much more from these particular units.”
Funding for the project comes from the government’s Roadmap to Wellness with $175 million in new annualized funding for mental health and addictions services being included in the 2021 budget.