11/25/2014 10:34 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST

Ontario promises better services for those with mental health issues, addictions

TORONTO - Ontario must do a better job of providing services to people with mental health and addiction issues, Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Tuesday as he announced $65 million in new funding for this year.

The funding, which will grow to $83 million next year, will help reduce wait times and improve access to mental health services, said Hoskins.

"It's a plan that I believe will provide better access, better quality and better value," he said.

The government must ensure "important early identification and intervention for those with mental illness and addictions by expanding existing programs," Hoskins said.

The plan includes increased housing and employment supports for the mentally ill, and new initiatives to reduce contact with the criminal justice system.

"When it comes to mental illness, too many individuals are receiving their diagnosis in the emergency room or following an encounter with police or the justice system," said Hoskins.

"But with mental health there can't be a single point of access to services, and that means we need to transform our system so that there's no wrong door."

The new funding will also help "close the gaps that remain in our system, especially when it comes to transitioning between adolescence and adulthood" while coping with mental illness or addiction, added Hoskins.

"It's an extremely complicated transitional period, and we need to do a better job as government in terms of the services we provide to accommodate that transition, and to make sure that the services being provided generally are having a positive outcome," he said.

A 12-bed pediatric eating disorders clinic will be set up at the Ontario Shores Centre in Whitby, and there is funding to reduce wait lists at that institution and three others: the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, the Waypoint Centre in Penetanguishene and the Royal Ottawa Hospital.

The four specialty mental health centres welcomed Hoskins' announcements.

"We know that prevention and early intervention are critical," said Carol Lambie, president and CEO of Waypoint. "'Investing in youth at the critical point of transition to adulthood, and ensuring we have the capacity to treat across the continuum, will improve the lives of those with mental illness and addictions."

Hoskins said there will be $28 million this year for community programs that offer easy access to services, rising to $55 million next year.

Another $16 million will fund 1,000 new supportive housing units for mentally ill people who are homeless, a program Hoskins said has been proven to work and should be a "foundational pillar" of a treatment program.

"Having that place, that secure and inviting place to call home, to provide that security, that sense of belonging to a community, is vitally important," he said.

"Today's commitment to housing will improve the quality of life of people with mental illness and increase access to care," said Karim Mamdani, President and CEO of Ontario Shores.

However, the New Democrats said the Liberal government had done very little to improve services for the mentally ill since a 2010 report from an all-party committee of the legislature.

"None of the recommendations have actually been followed up on," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "The government has done little to nothing to implement those recommendations, the first of which was to set up an umbrella organization to actually begin the work of co-ordination within the sector."

Hoskins did announce the creation Tuesday of a new 20-member Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Advisory Council which will report annually on the progress of the government's strategy.

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