It took two years to get there, but people across London and the surrounding region who are dealing with mental health issues now need knock on just one door — both literally and metaphorically — to get the help they need.
On Friday (March 7), the newly formed Canadian Mental Health Services (CMHA) Middlesex was unveiled by the man now charged with leading an organization that covers 7,200 square kilometres and 2,012 clients with a staff complement of more than 300 people.
“It is a simple thing, one number, one door, one click of a mouse will get you the services you need,” said Don Seymour, CEO of CMHA Middlesex. “We have to be honest; there are never enough resources to do everything we want to do. But with the resources we have, we know that we will be able to develop more timely access for people with mental illness.”
Merged together from the former Canadian Mental Health Association London-Middlesex, WOTCH Community Mental Health Services and Search Community Mental Health Services, the new organization offers many benefits to those in need of mental health services.
“I think we will be able to engage more rapidly with people who have a mental health crisis, provide stabilization for them while we look at the services that are best suited for them,” Seymour said. “The vision is mental health services for people when they need them, where they need them.”
Other advantages of the amalgamation include: enhanced services in rural communities; improved access to a broader range of services; enhanced crisis response and counselling services; enhanced service delivery navigation; and a streamlined process and improved client care experiences.
The amalgamation process wasn’t always a smooth one. Seymour said seeing people “stop thinking about me, and start thinking about we,” is what truly lingers with him, much more than any of the struggles it took to achieve the merger.
Jeff Low, board chair of South West LHIN, said the amalgamation process was “amazing” to watch. Low also said staff and volunteers of the three agencies worked together with “courage, vision, and determination” to make the CMHA Middlesex merger a success.
Low said the LHIN was “helpful in the process,” providing some facilitation services, and staying involved every step of the way to make sure everyone kept focused through the process.
“The potential was there to dig their heels in, but this group just got it,” Low said. “There was never a throwing up of hands, if anything, they looked at the issues and worked them through.”
While he doesn’t see amalgamation as “the panacea,” to all problems, he agrees with Seymour a “single door” for patients to get services from is vitally important. “Without that single point of access, people really don’t know what door to knock on, they get sent around, get frustrated, maybe decide not to seek help,” Low said. “With a single door to present themselves to, they can get help right from the get-go.”
Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews said the world of mental health is “changing so rapidly and for the better” and so she is proud of the leadership role London has played in making the world better for people facing mental health challenges.
“For too long, mental health has been into the shadows. For too long we didn’t talk about it. For too long we have stigmatized mental illness,” Matthews said. “We are breaking down those barriers. Mental health is a vital component of a healthy and vibrant community. As long as we ignore mental health and addiction challenges, we aren’t going to be as good as we can be.”
Over the course of two year of negotiations, there were numerous issues that came up. Perhaps no issue was more emotionally charged than the debate around what the name of the new organization.
Seymour, the former executive director of WOTCH, said losing the name was “a little bittersweet,” as it must have been for those who worked at Search. However, it was agreed from the start nobody was willing “kill this process” for the sake of a name change.
“We are joining a large provincial and national organization with a very loud voice. We are excited about joining that voice, but we are not afraid to use our voice when it comes to the needs of people with mental illness,” Seymour said. “I am excited to lead a team of incredibly dedicated, professional and passionate staff and group of volunteers saying let’s get on with this work and get it done.”
For more information, visit www.cmhamiddlesex.ca or follow CMHA Middlesex on Facebook (www.facebook.com/cmhamiddlesex) or Twitter (@CMHAMiddlesex).