'This needs to change': Kenora CMHA branch calls for more funding

KENORA — The local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is looking for the province to increase funding to help the mental health and addictions sector.

Sara Dias, the executive director of the CHMA Kenora branch, gave a presentation virtually at the provincial pre-budget consultation hearing held in Kenora on Monday.

Dias said the funding model for her sector has been broken for decades.

“This needs to change if the province truly wishes to champion community mental health and addictions care in terms of funding,” she said. “CMHA Kenora has received just a single two per cent base budget increase over the past 22 years. That was in 2018.”

Dias said considering inflation of about 24 per cent since 2014, it is not difficult to imagine their precarious economic position.

She said the lack of appropriate annualized operating funding has a negative ripple effect for staff and clients and the demand for services has increased more than ever before.

“As an example, since November alone we faced a 42 per cent increase in demand for our assertive community treatment teams,” she said.

Demand for court diversion services has shot up more than 80 per cent, she added.

“It's a challenge. We recognize resources and redeploy staff, but we struggle to meet this increased demand in service with our current budget allocations," Dias said.

“As you can imagine, [the staff] are burned out and exhausted. Many are leaving the mental health and addiction sector for jobs that pay significantly more.”

To emphasize the situation, Dias pointed out that at one point during the past year they had 17 full and part-time vacancies.

“For a small agency like ours, [this] is quite dramatic,” she said.

Dias said the majority of people that go into this particular line of work are not drawn in for the money, but they're drawn in for the roles because they believe in the cause and how important it is to have a strong mental health system.

But the impact of the historical funding situation, made worse by Bill 124, which capped public sector wage increases to one percent annually for three years, made it more difficult to retain staff, let alone hire them.

“Often we're losing people to hospitals, public health and other areas of health care that we can't match when it comes to salary and resources to do their jobs.”

She said the funding model not allowed the sector to look at sustainability and not allowed it to protect itself.

When asked by one of the MPP’s on the standing committee what she would need, Dias replied that they would be advocating for at least an eight per cent increase in base funding.

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source