It doesn’t have to be this way

Dec 18, 2017 @ 08:17

One of the things that draws many individuals into the political arena is an intense desire to help those who are most vulnerable in our society or who have been wronged by the system. I say this is true for many individuals of all political stripes. In all honesty there is no doubt in my mind about the sincerity and good intentions of almost every MPP and Cabinet Minster. However, despite all of our good intentions, sometimes it would seem that in all the hustle and bustle of getting the job done, some of us lose way or sense of direction. And we all know the saying that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

It seems that recently the vulnerability of those with mental health issues or who are forced to live in group homes has come up too often lately. Recently NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky raised the matter of the deplorable conditions in some unlicensed group homes. This problem has developed under the watch of successive Conservative and Liberal governments. Lisa shared the story of a 70-year old man named Esa who died while trying to escape a group home where he had been illegally locked inside a basement that was infested with roaches and mice. Esa deserved better.

Gretzky first raised concerns about the conditions in unlicensed group homes last month after a home that had violated numerous fire codes went up in flames in Toronto. Then, just fifteen days after raising the matter in the Legislature with the Premier, a woman fell out of bed and died in another group home incident.  At the moment, we don’t even know how many vulnerable people are dying in these horrendous conditions. How many people need to lose their lives in order for this Liberal government to take action on unlicensed group homes? With thousands of vulnerable Ontarians in unlicensed group homes at risk, it is essential that the government act now to make these homes safe before yet another tragedy strikes.

In previous columns here I have highlighted the number of Ontario youth who suffer from serious mental health concerns. In the Legislature, New Democrats have repeatedly pointed out the incredible number of youth who have been waiting and waiting to receive the mental health services that they so desperately need. The number of youth who have been on the waiting list after waiting list is absolutely staggering.

As an example, an NDP colleague shared the heartbreaking story of Ida Harry, the mother of a 12 year old boy. Ida’s son is in desperate need of mental health services. When her son attempted suicide Ida took him to the emergency room, where they waited for six hours before finally speaking with a medical student and a counselor. In the end they were simply sent home. For over a year now they have made numerous trips to the hospital, and still to date they have not received the support they so desperately need.

In Ontario today there are 12,000 children and youth waiting for mental health treatment – some waiting for as long as 18 months. An estimated 6,500 have been waiting for more than a year. Monique Taylor, NDP critic for Children and Youth recently tabled a motion calling on the Liberal government to eliminate waitlists for children and youth who need treatment at community-based mental health centres.

Without proper treatment, children and youth become even more ill. In the absence of adequate community-based mental health services, many of these children end up in the wrong place. Some end up in group homes with no staff trained to deal with often complex mental health issues. Up to 50,000, who reach a crisis situation, seek treatment in our overcrowded hospitals. Some are hospitalized – if they are lucky enough to find one with room.

In desperation Ida Harry wrote to her MPP saying, “Our children are victims of the province’s neglect to provide adequate mental health care for our youth. I implore the province and its officials to do something now before it’s too late. Does my son need to be on his death bed to get any help?”

New Democrats have a plan that offers hope to families struggling to get the mental health care that their children need and deserve. Only the NDP has pledged to fund hospitals, at a minimum, to the rate of inflation, population growth and to meet the unique needs of communities. We promise more than just good intentions.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Mike Mantha
Latest posts by Mike Mantha (see all)