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Merger of addiction and mental health services sought in Haldimand-Norfolk

SIMCOE, JAN. 12, 2007 – Local officials are advocating a merger of addiction and adult mental health services in Haldimand and Norfolk counties.

Norfolk county council recently endorsed in principle a joint proposal from the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Addiction Services Team and Adult Mental Health Services of Haldimand-Norfolk to merge their organizations to provide improved services to the community.

The proposal has been forwarded to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which must approve the merger. Upon ministry approval, the issue would come back to council for a final decision.

“Our two organizations are already working closely together because there is a strong link between addictions and mental health issues,” explained Karen Boughner, the Health Unit’s Manager of Public Health. “This merger would ensure improved services for clients, cost-savings for taxpayers and job security for the staff. It would be a win, win, win situation.”

The two organizations have been involved in joint counselling and training programs for about three years now because of the overlap in services, noted Brent Woodford, Executive Director of Adult Mental Health Services of Haldimand-Norfolk.

“Fifty per cent of people with an addiction will also have a mental health issue,” he explained “If the merger is approved, these clients will have enhanced accessibility to prompt, integrated services because they won’t have to deal with two different organizations. Because our two organizations are already working together informally, the transition would be swift and smooth.”

Local control of these health services is also a concern. Proposals have been floated over the past few years to merge local addiction services with agencies outside of Haldimand and Norfolk counties.

“This local merger would ensure that these services are maintained and controlled by the residents of Haldimand and Norfolk,” Woodford said. “The administrative cost-savings can then be put right back into client services right here in our own community.”

The merged services would come under the jurisdiction of Woodford’s 10-member board of directors, composed of Haldimand and Norfolk residents, including representatives of the clients themselves.

Adult Mental Health Services employs about 30 people, including psychiatrists, registered nurses, social
workers and peer support workers. The organization, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, provides assessment, diagnosis, counselling and other treatment for people over 16 years of age with a mental health issue who work or live in Haldimand and Norfolk.

The Health Unit’s Addiction Services Team, also funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, has a staff of 11 people and provides counselling treatment for problematic substance use and gambling, including youth services.

“The trend in Ontario and internationally is to integrate service delivery for addictions and mental health clients, so we need to move in that direction.” Boughner said. “Each of our organizations has specialized expertise that we can bring to the table. With so much client overlap, it only makes sense to blend these skills into one streamlined, cost-efficient operation.”

The two organizations are hoping to get a positive response from the ministry within the next three months.

Media contact information:
Karen Boughner, Manager of Public Health, Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, 519-426-6170 Ext. 3218
or Brent Woodward, Executive Director, Adult Mental Health Services of Haldimand-Norfolk, 519-587-4658.