Importance of partnerships for mental health care in a pandemic

By Carol Lambie

The alarming mental health and addiction statistics we are seeing with the COVID-19 pandemic heightens the importance of September as national Recovery Month, and Mental Illness Awareness Week from October 4 to 10. Unfortunately, one description of the stages of a pandemic indicates mental health challenges as the fourth wave unfortunately giving the impression it follows previous waves.   In truth, we started to see alarming mental health needs months ago. Provincially, hospitals, community organizations, and associations are supportive of Ontario’s Roadmap to Wellness strategy and are ready to partner with government to meet the increased demand for access to treatment and care in the pandemic’s wake.

Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care and our partners across the system have worked hard to maintain services while keeping patients and clients, and the staff we need to care for them, safe during the pandemic. Virtual services were rapidly implemented and adjustments with a focus on infection control were made to ensure patient and staff safety. Six months later we are now focused on how to increase supports not only for those already in hospital and receiving community services, but to meet emerging needs of all ages for mental health and addiction services.

As a specialty mental health hospital serving the Simcoe County, Muskoka and Parry Sound areas, and the entire province for high-secure forensic mental health programs, our patients’ recovery journeys can vary in length and require multiple services from in-hospital, to community and supportive housing. When the pandemic forced us to change the way we work, it not only put a strain on our patients, but also on staff.

With this new reality, partnerships at all levels have become more important than ever. Working with other hospitals and organizations allows us to advocate with one voice, enhance programs, and build on each of our strengths. Waypoint’s membership in the Central Ontario Regional Ontario Health Team for Specialized Populations is one of those partnerships.

The ten members are a network of agencies in Central Ontario providing person-centered care for vulnerable people and their families and caregivers with highly complex needs who require specialized intensive services throughout their lifespan with a focus on mental health and addictions. This specialized Ontario Health Team provides the opportunity to collaborate with hospitals, primary care physicians, community and acute care partners through other local Ontario Health Teams.

With so much shifting in the way healthcare workers are caring for patients, it’s also a priority to help them through this pandemic, ensuring supports are available through these unprecedented times.

Enhancements to wellness programming, developing resiliency workshops and at-home wellness activities, offering mindfulness sessions, and sharing resources on how to stay active while practicing physical distancing are just some of the supports available.

Rapid access to free mental health care support for healthcare and frontline workers became a focus for Waypoint in partnership with four other hospitals across Ontario and supported by the Mental Health and Addiction Centre of Excellence at Ontario Health. This service for healthcare and frontline workers provides free, confidential wellness and coping support during COVID-19. I urge you to make sure your staff know about this and other provincial services for healthcare workers by sharing the provincial website: COVID-19: Get support if you are a health care worker.

With an eye toward future supports for mental healthcare professionals, a research study is also underway in partnership with Georgian College to benefit today’s and future healthcare workers. ECHOES, or Effects of COVID-19 on Healthcare Providers: Opportunities for Education and Support, is a joint study with Waypoint designed to learn more about healthcare providers’ experiences with the pandemic and the impact on their professional practice.

As we move into the fall, we don’t know when this pandemic will end, but we do know that people have an increased need to access mental health and addiction treatment and care. We will continue to keep our focus on advocating for this with our partners, being innovative and finding new ways to support patients and clients to enhance their quality of life, and ensuring we are supporting our staff so they can continue to provide essential mental health care. Stay safe and be well.

Carol Lambie is President and CEO, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.