Thursday, 31 January 2013

Real Fiscal Responsibility

Once more we are seeing cuts to services for mental health problems in our province.  This time the cuts have been kept under wraps by the Ministry of Child & Family Development [MCFD].  A directive went out late last year for local managers to cut “full-time equivalency” by 8%.  What this means is that as positions come vacant within MCFD, managers are not to hire new staff until staffing levels across BC are reduced by 8%.

What this also means is that Social Workers - who already have case loads ridiculously high - will now be expected to take on more cases and services to families in crisis will suffer.

The evidence of how this is shaking down can be found in my own hometown of Summerland.  As of January 1st, 2013, the local MCFD office no longer performs intake for children and families in need, nor will they respond to crisis or child or spousal abuse reports.  Children and families who are in crisis must apply for services in the nearby town of Penticton.

Penticton is only a 15 minute drive away, but if a family in crisis doesn’t have a vehicle or can’t convince someone to drive them, they are out of luck – there is no rapid transit between the towns and Greyhound - the only commercial transportation available - just drastically cut their services in the region.

Centralizing investigations and intake at MCFD was attempted back in the 90s and failed miserably.  And it’s starting to fail this time already; A local community leader was approached by a child who had tried to get help from MCFD in Penticton and has been passed between five different Social Workers in the past two weeks.  And nothing has been done for this child.

Please don’t get me wrong; This isn’t an indictment of our Social Workers.  They are on our side - They are just as frustrated and heartsick with the ongoing cuts as we are.  As one Social Worker told be recently when I asked how things were going at MCFD; “Chaos.  Utter chaos.”

Both our Federal and Provincial governments have been playing the “fiscal responsibility” card when explaining the cuts to needed services over the past eight years.  To put it bluntly; They are full of crap.

Here are some startling facts about the financial impact of mental health issues, released last year by the Mental Health Commission of Canada;

  • 1 in 5 Canadians have a diagnosable mental health problem
  • Every day, 500,000 people miss work because of mental health problems
  • Mental health problems cost the Canadian economy a staggering $50 billion each year – No, that isn’t a typo: $50 BILLION per year
How does cutting services that can reduce those numbers be called fiscally responsible?

A study by Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMA) estimated that in British Columbia, the current financial cost to taxpayers for services to homeless people with severe addictions and/or mental illness is $55,000 a year per person. In contrast, providing these people with adequate housing and supports costs $37,000 a year per person. This would save taxpayers $211 million dollars a year in direct costs.

Here’s another angle that I can provide;

In my private practice I specialize in anxiety & mood disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD] among others.  I am surprised at how many of my clients arrive at my office in crisis with OCD and I’m pleased to report that by using a client-specific tailored treatment plan my clients have found relief from their symptoms [without medication] by the second session and are able to manage their disorder within 10 – 12 sessions.

I also offer a greatly reduced rate [$30 per session] to anyone referred through three local non-profit outreach agencies who see low income individuals and families on a daily basis.  I do this because I believe in the Civic Humanist ethical tenet that if one makes a living within a society, one must give back to that society.

I also am willing to do home sessions in some cases.

With that in mind, I’d be willing to offer the same to children, youth, and families in crisis referred by MCFD.

So let’s do THAT math; If an individual was referred to me by MCFD who was struggling with debilitating OCD [as an example] and I worked with them for 12 sessions to relieve their symptoms and they were then able to manage their disorder and return to normal functioning within the workforce, it would cost MCFD a whopping $360.00.

And I'm pretty sure I could convince many of my colleagues with the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association to do the same.

So if MCFD and other government agencies across Canada chose to stop making excuses for the cuts to their budgets and take advantage of effective mental health professionals offering some real solutions, we could make some solid headway in reducing that $50 billion annual loss.

And that, my friends, would be true fiscal responsibility.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC –

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