Mental health care closer to home

Mental health care in Southwestern Ontario is transforming. As part of a government directive, patients are receiving services closer to their home communities. This transformation has been more than 15 years in the making and is a complex and challenging system-wide change. For many mental health patients who have spent years in hospital, it means a major move that requires a special touch. St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health Care is doing everything possible to ensure transitions for patients are smooth and that an independent, fulfilling life is achieved.

Easing the transition: St. Joseph’s Transition Team helps support those with mental illness in the community

Registered nurse Trish Self is wearing her bright pink sweater today. “The client I am visiting said I don’t wear enough colour,” she smiles. “So I’m aiming to please.”

Self is among a dynamic group of players that also includes Kathy Sumnall, social worker, Sheila Linseman, psychometrist and Sara Jibb, occupational therapist. They form the Transition Team at St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health (RMHC), and although the name is reminiscent of a superhero league, they deny any claim to fame. Their success, they say, is part of a seamless connection of services from RMHC to community organizations.

But what they do is truly amazing. To ease the transition of patients from hospital to the community, whether it’s to a long-term care facility, a specialized home or their own apartment, the Transition Team skillfully guides individuals through the process. Working with RMHC inpatient clinicians, the team has helped to discharge patients who have lived in hospital for more than 10, 20 and in one case 30 years.

In place since summer 2011, the team’s creation was a priority for St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s board of directors, which approved the funds needed to support the transition of patients and they have recently approved funding for an additional year.

A winning combination

On a sunny spring day, the van arrived at Elgin Manor to pick up Kathy Hale and take her to bingo. “I hope I win a few,” she says as she sits on the bench waiting.

An excited Hale is a success story and a perfect example of why mental health transformation is taking place across the region.

Hale spent 30 years – more than half her life – in a mental health care hospital.  At the age of 55, she is now living in the community and doing wonderfully well.  “I’m doing good. I have a TV, my own bathroom and I like the different things to do here. I do them so I can be proud of myself,” she smiles.

Hale sees a member of RMHC’s Transition Team once a week as well others from community organizations.

“Gone are the days when people spent years in an institution,” says Sandy Whittall, vice president, mental health services at St. Joseph’s. “With recovery focused care we are seeing people successfully living outside of hospital; and what better place to be than in a space you can call home?”

The melody of happiness
It’s a beautiful morning and with an accordion propped on one knee, Eugene is ready to play. His fingers go to work on the buttons and keys, every push and pull of the bellows filling the back porch with song. He closes his eyes as he plays, a clear sign of concentration and passion for his instrument.

Playing the accordion is one of the many things Eugene is now able to do in the comfort of his own home. But it hasn’t always been that way.

For the last 14 years, Eugene has been an inpatient at RMHC. It’s been a challenging journey for the 60-year-old, who has been in and out of hospital most of his adult life. Now, thanks to the support of the RMHC Transition Team and community supports, he has been living a successful, fulfilled life in the community.

Kathy Sumnall, social worker on the Transition Team, visits Eugene about once a week.

“I’ve seen a huge difference in him,” she says. “I see more of his sense of humor now, and he looks better physically and seems happier.”

In addition to playing the accordion Eugene enjoys reading the paper, loves nature and is fascinated by trains. “I don’t miss the hospital,” he says, “I’m happy to be in my own home.”

The smile on his face says it all.

A new life at 65
Marcia Smith was a teenager in the 60s and spent most of that decade in hospital. Throughout her adult life she continued to struggle with mental illness and was in and out of mental health care facilities for years.

Turning 65 was a milestone for Marcia – she celebrated her birthday in her own home.

Marcia was hospitalized from age 13 to 21. Perhaps as homage to the 60s – a decade she couldn’t fully be a part of – she has written several poems, including one called The Beatnik.  “I love poetry, and painting,” says Marcia. “I love expressing with colour.”

Marcia also enjoys putting her hands to work and has the crafts to prove it, including a shamrock she made that adorns her door for good luck. And luck is winking at Marcia as she is living happily and independently in a supportive housing residence where staff tend to her needs and a Transition Team member visits weekly.

“I check-in and evaluate mental and physical wellbeing and help address any issues while working with her personal support worker and the residence staff,” says Sheila Linseman, psychometrist at RMHC. “It’s a team effort; we all support Marcia so she can thrive.”

Marcia has been living independently in what she calls her ‘penthouse’ for more than seven months, paying for her own meals, rent, groceries and toiletries. She enjoys romance novels and can recite the poetry she composed at a minute’s notice.

Marcia missed most of the 1960s but now in her 60s, she is doing better than ever.