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Ontario to get central mental health agency


TORONTO—Ontario is establishing an agency to oversee mental health and addictions care across the province in a bid to improve access to treatment.

The government said yesterday that the new agency—dubbed the Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence—would act as a “central engine” for care oversight, improving upon a system that's currently fragmented and confusing for patients and their families.

The new centre will be responsible for developing, standardizing, and monitoring care across the province.

It will be part of province's health super agency, Ontario Health, which was announced in February and consolidates 14 local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and several other agencies.

Martin likened the new centre's operations to Cancer Care Ontario, which was established in 1995 to help provide up-to-date cancer knowledge and tools to improve care.

“With the support of the Centre of Excellence, Ontario will finally be able to standardize the quality and delivery of mental health and addictions services across the province and help patients and families access better and more consistent patient services and supports,” she said.

Martin could not say how much will be spent to establish the agency, what its annual budget will be or how many people it will employ.

“We're not trying to create a large bureaucracy," she said. "What we're trying to do is model Cancer Care Ontario's vision . . . on standardization, quality and performance and oversight. But we don't want to proliferate back office support, that's the whole point of Ontario Health, to have these organizations share back office support.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the lack of details on the new centre troubling.

“It looks like another back-of-the-napkin kind of salvo that the government is throwing out there to try to take attention from some of the troubles they're in,” she said.

Horwath said the government has made cuts to the mental health system and reduced the number of safe consumption sites, which will hurt people suffering from addictions issues. The government needs to invest more money in the system, she said.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said he's concerned that local feedback could be sidelined if too much authority is consolidated in one office inside the government and not in communities.

“There seems to be a lot of centralization in Ontario health care right now and it's about a balance,” he said.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government should create a stand-alone ministry to oversee mental health and addictions.

“As the overdose crisis worsens and as we learn more about the mental health gaps across Ontario and the world, the need for a stand-alone ministry will only increase,” he said in a statement.

“It is important to have a minister and ministry to be accountable for the mental health and addictions crisis we face.”

Ontario Medical Association president Dr. Sohail Gandi said yesterday that the province's doctors welcome the new strategy and believe it could help patients.

“Every day we see the impact of a patchwork of mental health and addictions programs,” Gandi said in a statement, adding that doctors are ready to work with the government to ensure the new strategy meets the health needs of the people.

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