The Ontario government announced on Monday that it will provide more than $4.2 million in additional funding annually to a residential treatment centre that helps teenagers with mental health and addiction issues.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the money is earmarked for the Pine River Institute in Mulmur, Ont., about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto. The increase in funding will enable the treatment centre to add 30 new beds by March 2022, bringing the total number of beds at the facility to 59.
Outside the treatment centre, Elliott told reporters that the government realizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in demand for mental health services for young people.
"Supporting the health and well-being of children and youth has never been more important. We know that children and youth are struggling, families and communities are struggling as well," Elliott said.
"We knew that, as a result of COVID, there was going to be an increase in the mental health and addiction needs across the province of Ontario. Youth are no different. There have been a lot of stresses and strains for everybody during the course of this pandemic. We know that the need is going to continue to grow. We need to have more facilities. Mental health is health."
Elliott said the government plans to encourage the expansion of other facilities in Ontario as well.
Pine River Institute, a not-for-profit treatment centre that opened about 15 years ago, treats young people aged 13-19 who have addictive behaviours and other mental health issues.
The treatment centre offers accredited educational programs to ensure teens can continue high school. It also offers individual plans for young people based on their developmental needs. Those plans include therapy, a structured environment and a life skills program. It also offers after care support.
Average waiting time for bed is 14 months, official says
Edyta Pacuk, chair of the treatment centre's board, told reporters that Pine River Institute places an emphasis on the involvement of families and caregivers in its programs.
"When our students graduate, they can reclaim their lives, they can reclaim their families, they can reclaim their future," Pacuk said.
"We can confidently say we make a difference that lasts."
At any given time, there are about 200 students and families waiting for a bed at the facility and the average wait time is more than 14 months, Pacuk said.
Addictions and Mental Health Ontario (AMHO), an organization that represents more than 200 addiction and mental health organizations in Ontario, said in a statement on Monday that the provincial announcement is a positive move but more needs to be done.
"AMHO is thrilled to see that the government of Ontario has funded the operation of these new live-in treatment beds for youth with addictive behaviour. It's a direct response to one of AMHO's recommendations to tackle the growing addiction and substance use crisis in our province," the organization said in the statement
"Today's investment is a good first step in building up a more comprehensive spectrum of services for people living with addiction and people who use substances. Wait times for mental health and addiction services across Ontario are too long."
AMHO added: "As a result of today's investment, more youth who need the program at Pine River will have faster access to the life saving services they need."
The announcement comes during Ontario's first-ever Recovery Month in September, a month dedicated to fighting the stigma around addiction and substance use.
In a news release on Monday, the government said the funding is part of its plan to invest $3.8 billion over 10 years to implement its Roadmap to Wellness, a plan by the province to build a mental health and addictions system centred around the needs of individuals and their families.