Nova Scotia is expanding mental health, grief and bereavement resources in Cumberland, Colchester and Hants counties.
The $18-million joint investment between the province and Ottawa is in line with a recommendation in the Mass Casualty Commission's final report.
"The tragic events that unfolded in this province three years ago have had a lasting impact on families of the victims and the communities they call home," Brian Comer, minister responsible for Nova Scotia's Office of Addictions and Mental Health, said during the announcement.
The commission recommended the government fund a program by May 1 to address needs in the communities directly impacted by the April 2020 tragedy — when 22 people were killed in 13 hours by a gunman posing as a Mountie. The program could expand to other communities if needed.
Comer said the commission's recommendations "spoke to the urgent need for on-the-ground supports" in the affected communities.
Funding for the program will be delivered over two years, with $9 million coming from Nova Scotia and $9 million from the federal government.
Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of mental health and addictions and associate minister of health, said the public is demanding change for good reason.
"We will support Nova Scotia in enhancing its mental health capacity," she said.
Starting Monday, new mental health outreach staff will be available in Truro, N.S. According to a news release, these workers will travel to communities "to provide mental wellness supports to individuals and groups." They will also be able to connect people to other supports, like clinical mental health care, as needed.
Comer said one of the positions of the outreach staff has already been filled and he said work will continue to recruit more people to the northern part of the province. Comer would not say how many people would be hired in total, but it would be part of community consultations.
"There's also a commitment today to have the mobile primary care clinics, which will also have mental health clinicians as part of those teams, they'll also be rolled out next week," Comer said.
There will also be a push to immediately hire a "grief subject matter expert" for the northern zone, he said.
A mobile unit staffed by a clinical team will be available on Saturdays in May, beginning May 6 at the Bass River Fire Hall at 5554 Glooscap Trail. A schedule of dates and times will be made available as the service expands.
"You don't need an appointment to show up with your health card," Comer said, adding that he plans to visit the communities in the coming weeks.
There will also be a second team focused on community engagement on site to hear how best to meet their needs. People will be able to meet with members of that team starting on May 6 at the fire hall.
According to the news release, the commission recommended that the program "provide concerted supports on an urgent basis and transition to long-term care over time, be developed and implemented by a local multidisciplinary team of health professionals, provide Mi'kmaw communities with the opportunity to participate in the program, and be funded to carry out needs and impact assessments in 2023, 2025 and 2028."
Progressive Conservative MLA Tom Taggart, who was a municipal councillor for the Municipality of Colchester at the time of the shootings, said he's supportive of the announcement. One of the biggest challenges for the program will be getting people in the community to come out and take advantage of it, he said.
"I know lots of folks that are struggling right now more than they ever were and have probably fallen through the cracks to some degree. But I think if we can do that right — and that's no small chore — that we can get them,'" Taggart told reporters. "Because it's hard to get people to come out and say, 'I need help.'"
Taggart said he gets calls on a regular basis from people about the shooting.
"There's people who need support, there's no question," he said.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Claudia Chender said she was happy that mental health supports are coming to the community.
"We're pleased to see action on this recommendation," Chender said.
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