Access Denied – LPH….A Safe Harbour

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I am a citizen who is very concerned about the mental illness and addiction problem in Thunder Bay. I am especially troubled with the jail system becoming a holding zone for the mentally ill.

I prepared a presentation and made a deputation request to Thunder Bay city council. I was denied access to council to make my presentation. The letter of denial stated that according to article 6.7.2, my topic was not within their jurisdiction.

They may not have the powers, but they certainly have the influence! They should have concerns for all of their constituents including those who are in out-of-control situations regarding mental illness and addictions, living in shelters, on the street, or in prison.

My presentation in full follows below.

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LPH….A Safe Harbour

About 30 years ago, psychiatric hospitals began to close. Mentally ill patients were released from their hospitals and expected to fend for themselves in a community that was equipped to care for them. Because of anti-social behaviour, many could not stay housed and ended up in jail or on the streets. Through no fault of their own, they lost their dignity, resulting of course in stigmatization.

I didn’t realize how serious this problem had become until I read (in the Chronicle Journal) a speech given by Vic Toews, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety. Mr. Toews says that it is time we stopped using prisons as a parallel health care system for the mentally ill. Prisons are not able to meet the needs of mentally ill offenders, and corrections staff is not trained to deal with mental health issues.

Besides the prison staff, the only social interaction the mentally ill have is with criminals, some who are dangerous. This is a societal snake pit and a national disgrace! Why are we incarcerating mentally ill patients in prisons? Isn’t this a violation of their human rights? Isn’t this stigmatization at its very worst?

The so-called community-care approach is not working. Recently in Thunder Bay a pedestrian was seriously stabbed in broad daylight by a mentally ill woman. In Winnipeg a senior citizen was killed in his residence by another senior who was mentally ill. Similarly a young man was decapitated on a greyhound bus by a mentally ill attacker. Obviously, the stigmatization and negative perception of mental illness increases!

There are also many senior citizens who suffer from elder abuse at the hands of their adult children who suffer from mental illness or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
I wish to stress that many people who suffer from a mental health illness that is under control, can and do live quite successfully in society at large.

I am acquainted with several of them. It is the out of control mentally ill who require professional 24/7 monitoring for their own safety, as well as the safety of others. Despite all of this, our health care CEOs are determined to continue with the community approach which obviously has failed so miserably, so tragically.

It is said that the definition of insanity is making the same mistake over and over again, expecting a different result!

Did the community approach prevent the recent stabbing in the city?

Did the community approach prevent the violent death of a senior citizen in Winnipeg?

Did the community approach prevent the beheading of a rider on a Greyhound bus?

If you had a loved one who suffered from a mental illness with out of control behaviour, where would you want that loved one to be; in a homeless shelter, on the street, in a prison or in a well-run psychiatric facility staffed with professionals? There is insufficient room at the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital to be effective for our city’s large and ever-growing problem.

Our healthcare CEOs are determined to close the LPH!

1. The main excuse/propaganda is that we must not stigmatize the mentally ill by admitting them to a psychiatric hospital! Is this not indirect stigmatization of the mentally ill? It would seem that some of our healthcare professionals have been educated to the point of “politically correct” denial. Mental illness is not a shameful condition and psychiatric hospitals are not shameful places for care. They are places of refuge and safety where a patient’s dignity can be preserved. Psychiatric nursing is a noble and necessary profession.

2. Another reason given for the closure of the LPH is that there may be an asbestos problem. They say the facility is not up to code. Then why are they still using the facility? There may or may not be asbestos problems in the penitentiaries which may not be up to code… but we are still keeping our mentally ill patients there!

3. Next excuse, there is no money to keep the LPH open!

Oh there is money all right. (a) There are millions of dollars for the Olympics. (b) There are millions of dollars for royal visits. (c) There are millions of dollars for G8/G20 summits and the security that goes along with it. (d) There are millions of dollars for professional sports and millions of dollars for multiplexes where they perform. (e) There are millions of dollars for the marina project including $900,000.00 for so-called art…but there is no money for a proper facility for the mentally ill.

Keeping the LPH open can be very financially viable!

1. Our city receives dividends from both T-Bay Tel and the casino.

2. Clients at the LPH could pay room and board with their social assistance or disability cheques.

3. Volunteers from church groups and from the hospital auxiliary could help out on the units.

4. Clients could work in the top-notch laundry facility not only for their own benefit, but also as a business enterprise in the community. I am delighted to see that once again, as in the past; a vegetable garden has been promoted as a tool to give clients that foot-up into the community. This produce would supply food for the facility and could be sold at Farmer’s Markets.

5. Clients could work in the kitchen, preparing meals for the facility and also run a catering business such as “Meals on Wheels”.

It can be done with the Vision and the Will! I can visualize:

1. The LPH with a multi-purpose hostel for people in crisis
2. An emergency assessment unit for drug/alcohol and mental illness crisis.
3. A refuge for abused women and men in crisis.
4. A refuge for sex-trade workers who want to get off of the streets
5. Both in and outpatient facilities.

This city council, like others before it, are very good at promoting expensive projects to put the city of Thunder Bay on the map. That should not be your priority! Your priority should be the disadvantaged and powerless citizens of this city who need to be rescued from their torment and their despair. This is how you will be judged in the end!

Our current system is feeding stigmatization. I ask that you seriously consider keeping the LPH open to care for our large and ever-growing population in need.

Please do the right thing.

Thank You,
Valerie Morsette

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