Topsail district MHA Paul Davis (seated, left), Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman (standing) and Eastern Health employee Susan MacLeod listen to a member of the audience speak at an information session held Monday night regarding a treatment facility for youth with mental health issues set to be built in the community. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
After nearly two hours of discussion, a clear message was sent by the vast majority of Paradise residents who attended an information session on a new provincial treatment centre for youth with mental health issues proposed for the community: not in our backyard.
“There’s nobody here, I think, that has an issue with this building being built anywhere,” said one woman during the question and answer portion of the meeting held Monday night at the Paradise Rotary Youth Centre. “It is definitely needed. The youth of our province are our future.”
“We need this building no doubt. But we don’t need it in a residential area,” the women said.
That comment was one of several that received substantial applause during the meeting, which often had Mayor Ralph Wiseman on the receiving end of statements bemoaning the town council’s approval-in-principle to locate the centre at the former Paradise Elementary School.
That decision was made at a July 19 council meeting. Shortly thereafter, a tender for Phase 1 of construction for the new facility was announced by the Department of Health and Community Services. It has not yet been awarded, according to Topsail district MHA Paul Davis.
The treatment centre will house a maximum of 12 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years divided into three living areas. They may be dealing with depression, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, among other mental health issues.
Four of the youths considered at risk of hurting themselves or leaving the facility will live in secure treatment, according to Susan MacLeod, the program manager for the facility. McLeod gave a 10-minute presentation outlining the features of the facility prior to opening the floor to questions and comments from the crowd of 70.
The majority of comments from the audience expressed concerns regarding how safe it will be for children in the area to live near a facility housing youth with severe mental health issues.
MacLeod said youth at the centre will not be there because of criminal behaviour, as it is not intended to serve as a youth corrections facility.
The centre will be staffed 24 hours a day, with a minimum of one staff person for every two youth.
“All 12 of the young people will be supervised at all times, so we’ll be hyper vigilant parents,” she said, adding behaviour at the facility will dictate how much the youths can do outside of it.
Colleen Simms, a Department of Health employee, is co-chair of a planning committee for the facility. She said when the committee looked at finding a location for the centre, it wanted to avoid using a hospital setting and, instead, foster a home-like environment.
Finding Crown land to use was also a must, as was finding an aesthetically pleasing area outside of the city that was close to emergency services, she said.
The latter point was questioned openly by one person at the meeting, who noted Paradise does not have a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary detachment or a fire station.
A significant number of those of the meeting expressed dismay over how much publicity was given to the meeting, with most stating they heard about it during the supper news hour on Monday.
One person suggested the Health Department schedule another meeting with more advance notice. Simms said she will bring that suggestion to the attention of Health Minister Jerome Kennedy.
Several people also singled out the town council for not asking the public for input on its decision to give approval-in-principle to letting the facility take over the old school property.
Davis said the engineering and design plan for the facility is still being looked at. Once it is finished, it will come before Paradise town council for another vote.
“As you saw here, there’s a plan in place for staffing to do it properly, with the proper expertise, the proper professionals, and those that are in the position to be able to make this work,” Davis said.
“This is not being built for failure. This is being built to make it work in the best interests of the people within the four walls of that building, and outside the four walls of that building.”