Recent History – 1999
Aug. 13, 1999, By Kelly Henschel, Daily News Staff
It’s very difficult to feed a person on only $1.10 per plate. However, that’s about all the current budget allows for the meal program at the On Our Own Drop-In Centre in Dawson Creek.
The centre has been in operation for five years and primarily serves people with mental illness, particularly individuals with Schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders, with the goal of keeping the individuals in the community and out of care facilities. Funding for the program comes from the Peace Liard Community Health Services Society (CHSS) mental health division.
Sometimes, says chairperson Blanche Parks, the money situation is tight, as the centre feeds 20-25 people a day as well as offering a place to have coffee and meet with friends.
“Sometimes we’re right at the end of our wits to get everything to come together and have enough,” she says.
“We feed more and more people up here,” she says. “We are here for the simple fact that we do keep people out of the hospital and that’s why we’re funded.”
According to the B.C. Mental Health Monitoring Coalition, funding issues may continue to plague mental health programs.
In February of 1998, the Health Ministry released a plan detailing mental health services needed in B.C., promising $125 million over seven years to put the services in place across the province.
The majority of regional health authorities and community health service societies, including the Peace Liard CHSS, developed their own regional plans.
However, says coalition chairperson John Russell, the provincial government is holding back on the promised funds, increasing spending in other areas of health care instead.
“Only ten million dollars are allocated (for mental health) to communities across B.C. in the last fiscal year (98/99) and no allocations are in this current fiscal year,” he says.
“I think it is very worrisome,” agrees regional co-ordinator Karen Seyl. “Mental health has always been a vulnerable service.”
About 763 adults in the Peace Liard region are impacted with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders, and an estimated 1,110 to 1,500 suffer from mental illness such as depression or anxiety disorders. The 1997-1998 adult mental health budget for the region, which serves 60,000 people, was $1, 019, 479, giving funding to regional programs in Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson and Hudson’s Hope.
Thanks to government funding, the CHSS programs have seen people struggling with mental illness reunited with their families and functioning in the community, Seyl says.
For that reason, she says, funds allotted for the care of the most serious mentally ill patients must not be siphoned into other areas of health care.
“There’s got to be a protection of the funds for the mentally ill because they will always be taken away to meet those other needs. The government needs to realize something needs to be done and designate the funding for mental health,” she says.
“They’re not a throw away population, they’re a population in need.”
Meanwhile, if the promised funding is not a reality for the coming year, the belt will just have to be tightened in programs such as On Our Own, says Parks.
“I guess we’ll struggle to keep things going,” she says. “We have an important job here.”