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Editorial: The Time Is Now to Make a Difference

Karen McGrath, BSW, MBA
Network, Fall 2005

The health care system is on the cusp of a significant change in Ontario. Early in its mandate, the McGuinty government announced that it was planning to transform the health system and that the transformation would be Ontario style — a made-in-Ontario solution. The transformation was eventually to affect the way in which services were delivered, but the beginning step would be planning, coordination and management.

To this end, the government organized Ontario into 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), conducted needs assessments in these regions, and most recently named three board members and the CEO for each of these networks. Next steps include passing legislation to give the LHINS their formal mandates and beginning discussions with all the current service providers in each LHIN area.

I would argue that the average Ontarian does not even know the transformation is occurring. They are concerned about whether or not they can get the services they need when they need them, but the unfortunate reality is that many people still cannot, so the transformation has not really moved to the person level yet.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario — along with its partners, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs — has been following the transformation quite closely. In fact, the partnership arose because of the transformation and our united concern that mental health services must be maintained and enhanced throughout the transformation process and beyond.

The community-based mental health system in Ontario has recently seen significant investment — in fact, the first investment in some 17 years. This investment has meant expansion of existing services, as well as development of new services, to address the needs of the seriously mentally ill in our province. Canadian Mental Health Association branches have been recipients of this investment.

Our ongoing commitment is to continue to monitor the development of the LHINs and to ensure that each one is responsive to mental health needs within its own jurisdiction. We also want to work on continuity across LHINs to make sure that the same range and quality of services can be found in each of the LHIN areas. Mental health and addiction services were rated in the top three priorities in all the LHIN areas of this province when the community consultations and needs assessments were conducted by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care late last year. It is now important that the LHIN volunteers and staff translate this need into the reality of service provision in their area.

There are many good mental health service providers out there. Of course, I would rank CMHA branches at the top. It is now time for a united message from us all — a message that not only reiterates the need for a full range of accessible community-based mental health services in all areas of the province, but also reaffirms CMHA’s core value that consumers and family members must be at the heart of the transformation. When the transformation moves to the level of the person and that person is a mental health consumer who is unable to get service in their community, it will be too late. The time is now to make a difference to the community-based mental health system in Ontario.

Karen McGrath is the chief executive officer of CMHA, Ontario. She has served as CEO for Health and Community Services, Newfoundland and Labrador, and as a surveyor for the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation. Her volunteer roles have included president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers, president of CMHA, Newfoundland and Labrador Division, and president of CMHA National.

» Return to Network, Fall 2005 – Contents