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Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario branches seek ‘substantial’ base funding increase

Ontario branches of the CMHA are calling on the province to provide more base funding. Elva Etienne/ Getty Images

The Peterborough-area branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is joining other branches across Ontario to call on the province for a “substantial, immediate and ongoing” base-funding increase for the community mental health and addictions sector.

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The call to action on Wednesday comes during the Bell “Let’s Talk” one-day social media campaign in support of mental health initiatives. According to the CMHA, one in four Ontarians has sought mental health support since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Graham, chief executive director of the CMHA’s Haliburton, Kawartha Pine Ridge (HKPR) branch in Peterborough, says a base budget increase is needed to improve the community mental health and addictions sector.

Click to play video: 'Peterborough mental health services seeing an increase in demand'
Peterborough mental health services seeing an increase in demand

“We need critical infrastructure investments to maintain the highest quality of care for the individuals we serve,” Graham said. “But decades of underfunding and the increased need for service are having devastating impacts on how we can best support people in need.”

Graham says each CMHA branch in Ontario needs at least an eight per cent increase in base funding — for all of the branches it equates to under $30 million. The CMHA says for the entire community mental health and addictions sector, it equates to $125 million.

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Graham tells Global News Peterborough that the HKPR branch has only received a two per cent base increase once over the last 10 years. He says his branch requires a base budget increase of $600,000.

“The lack of historical funding for the community-based mental health and addictions services sector has contributed to barriers to mental health and addictions care,” he said.

Ontario’s 2020-21 health budget was $59.8 billion. Of that, $1.56 billion or less than three per cent was allocated to community-based mental health and addiction care, the CMHA notes.

Graham says a base budget increase will help CMHA branches to address rising operating costs, deliver more services, reduce wait times, improve staff recruitment and retention, and alleviate employee burnout and stress.

The CMHA says that over the past two years, 66 per cent of resignations at Ontario branches have been salary-based.

Ontario’s Bill 124 one per cent wage freeze has also made it difficult to retain and recruit staff, Graham notes.

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“We need to create greater salary parity with other healthcare sectors to facilitate increased recruitment and retention rates and help with operating costs that go up annually,” he said.

Locally, the staff vacancy rate is currently at six per cent, Graham says.

“We are continuing to lose talented, dedicated staff to burnout and exhaustion and to jobs with higher pay,” he said. “Currently, we have a staff vacancy rate of around six per cent, meaning that at any given time, there are multiple teams with vacancies. This means that the remaining team members are having to pick up the slack. In turn, causing more burnout and exhaustion.”

Graham says as CMHA branches continue to reorganize resources and redeploy staff, they continue to struggle to meet the increased demand in service with the current budget allocations.

“We simply can’t do more, or provide even the same level of service, when we aren’t resourced properly,” he said.

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