Waste of time, money

By John Besley and Crystal Kingwell

From our perspective, there’s no problem with making sure mental patients who need drugs to control dangerous behavior take their medication. In the interest of the greater good, it is an acceptable limit on an individual’s rights.

But Ottawa Centre Liberal MPP Richard Patten’s mental health reform seems to be only minor tinkering which doesn’t address the real issue: funding for mental health care. The law isn’t the problem.

Patten is planning to re-introduce his plan for a community treatment program that would forcibly hospitalize mental patients if they pose a danger to society.

Patten is wasting the legislature’s time and money. He doesn’t seem to understand that the problem is not with the legislation in the first place.

Even the Canadian Mental Health Association, whose members actually deal with the mentally ill every day, says the province should concentrate on investing in the services that already exist rather than fiddling with the bureaucratic structure itself.

Because Patten’s plan is only an opposition MPP’s private member’s bill, it’s unlikely to pass. Even if it does, it won’t get the same priority at budget time as it would if proposed by Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer. Patten says he has her support, but that alone isn’t enough.

If the health ministry feels the bill is worthwhile, it should take leadership of the idea and guide it through the legislature. With the weight of the government behind it, the bill would be more likely to get the funding it needs to be effective.

Since the Tories took power in 1995, they have cut $500,000 from counselling for mental health patients in Ottawa-Carleton.

Those needing one-on-one help may have to wait more than five years. When combined with other health care cuts that force sick people out of institutions, there’s an obvious need for more, not less, financial support for community treatment.

The CMHA says that the current law, which allows for community treatment if the patient poses an “imminent danger” to society, is adequate.

Patten’s changes boil down to playing with definitions. “Imminent danger” would be dropped and a new set of criteria would be established. But that doesn’t change the fact that without government endorsement, the money won’t likely materialize.

Patten is partially right. Mentally ill patients need better care, but this private member’s bill isn’t the solution.