Mental health got some long overdue attention in Tuesday’s budget, including $4.5 million to start planning the demise of the Waterford Hospital.
“I can’t think of another budget in the history of the province that has invested this much money in mental health,” said Peter Ralph, president of the Consumer Health Awareness Network of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Ralph, a lawyer, said there’s still a long way to go, but lauded Health Minister Jerome Kennedy for
mental health initiatives, includ-ing boosts for his group and
“It’s a remarkable day for all of us involved in mental health. … We’ve been at the table and we’ve been picking up the crumbs and trying to survive on that,” Ralph said.
George Skinner, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association-Newfoundland and Labrador, said it was “probably the best budget for mental health Ralph said the Waterford Hospital — once nicknamed The Mental, parts of which date to 1855 — hasn’t served the needs of people who suffer from mental illnesses in many years.
“That’s fantastic really. If you spend any time there or go in there, it’s really quite a travesty that passes for a psychiatric hospital,” Ralph said.
“Some of the units you have people sharing, five or six in a room. It’s a disgraceful that hospital still exists and I commend the province for moving in that direction.”
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Total cost of replacing The Waterford is estimated at $250 million, Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said.
This year’s allotment will pay for planning and to hire consultants. It will take four to five years to build a new facility and Kennedy insisted the plan won’t sit on the shelf.
“I’m not coming here today and saying we’re going to replace the Waterford Hospital and next year change our minds. We are replacing the Waterford Hospital,” he said.
The plan is to build the new facility on the Waterford lands.
Kennedy said there’s no space at the Health Sciences to build a “superhospital” but said some acute mental health services will be shifted there and the new mental health hospital will mostly be long-term care.
Some people might be disappointed at the news the new hospital will go on the Waterford site because of the stigma long associated with it, but Ralph said he doesn’t have a problem with rebuilding there — it’s a beautiful property across from Bowring Park.
In other moves meant to help beat down the stigma of mental illnesses and addictions and reach out to isolated patients, the province is starting up an interactive web-based e-mental health service, borrowing a model from New Zealand, Kennedy said. The province is also improving tele-mental health services and launching a public awareness campaign. Some $1 million combined will be spent on the e-mental health, tele-mental health and awareness campaign.
"That's fantastic, really. If you spend any time there or go in there, it's really quite a travesty that passes for a psychiatric hospital. ...I commend the province for moving in that direction." - Peter Ralph, president, Consumer Health Awareness Network of Newfoundland and Labrador
Rural mental health services will get a $3.2-million infusion.
There’s $180,000 for the Canadian Mental Health association to staff regional offices in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor, $140,000 for the Consumer Health Awareness Network to hire four peer support positions for community health in central and western and $76,000 for Choices for Youth.
There will be money to hire five full-time mental health and addiction counsellors to boost services in Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik and Natusashish and workers to manager referrals for Labrador West and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Placentia, Bonne Bay, Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor also get some rural case managers.
Kennedy said mental health and addictions has been one of his priorities since becoming health minister.
“In over 20 years as a criminal lawyer, I saw a lot of suffering in the court system form people who are charged and people who are victims of crime,” Kennedy said.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said the government has to spend more to train people how to work in the mental health care system.