Royal Ottawa Health Care Group
Changing the Mental Health Care Landscape
George Weber has been involved in non-profit and health services at the community, national and international levels for many years. However, he never thought he would be part of an organization so dedicated to the mental well-being of people. Joining the Royal Ottawa Heath Care Group (ROHCG) meant he could make a significant difference within the organization and contribute to the work it does.
The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group is made up of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, the Brockville Mental Health Centre, the University Of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research, the Royal Ottawa Place, and the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. The Group also partners with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to operate the Brockville-based St. Lawrence Valley Correctional & Treatment Centre Secure Treatment Unit as well as Veterans Affairs Canada to operate the Ottawa based Operational Stress Injury Clinic.
The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre is a new 188-bed state-of-the-art mental health facility, and Royal Ottawa Place is a 96-bed long-term residential care centre, both are located in Ottawa. The Brockville Mental Health Centre is a specialized 219-bed psychiatric facility. Clinicians at these facilities work with partners in the health care system to ensure timely and appropriate patient access to specialized psychiatric services and treatment. The University Of Ottawa Institute Of Mental Health Research is the home of revolutionary multidisciplinary research programs investigating biological and psychological factors that contribute to mental illness, and it strives to find innovative ways to treat those illnesses.
The ROHCG has one aim: to be the foremost specialized mental health facility for residents of communities across Eastern Ontario. Programs at the facilities are aimed specifically at treating people with complex and serious mental illnesses which are often resistant to treatment.
Weber was called by the ROHCG to take on the interim president and CEO role more than one year ago, when he was taking time from his extensive career as a CEO to do personal projects before accepting another permanent new challenge. Although not intending to assume a permanent position, he soon realized how important the Group is to the populations it serves.
He has taken on the permanent role as of this past April, and looks forward to moving the organization forward to the best it can be, especially in the area of patient care provision.
Working with Canada’s most vulnerable populations
“I’ve been so touched by the work we do. Mental health care practitioners work with some of the most vulnerable people in Canada.”
Mental health affects the Canadian economy to the tune of $51 billion a year, and the cost is rising. This figure represents a significant chunk of GDP in Canada. No wonder those work with mentally ill populations are so committed and passionate – the outcome for the country is directly affected by how strong mental health care services are.
“Adequate mental health care in Canada is so important. The statistics are staggering, and eye-opening. One in five Canadians will be affected by some type of mental illness in their lifetime. When someone is mentally ill, they can experience an extremely low quality of life if not treated and cared for properly, whether they have Alzheimer’s or suffer from an addiction.”
Essentially, every family in Canada, nuclear or extended, is typically affected in some way by mental illness. Yet, the negative stigmas attached to mental illness are pervasive – and damaging.
“When someone breaks a leg, friends and family will rally around the injured person and sign the cast. But when someone is mentally ill, people don’t necessarily rush to help them right away. In general, people don’t talk about mental illness the same way they might talk about other illnesses. People are stigmatized, and that really affects their quality of life.”
Improving quality of life is paramount
Weber adds that although the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses have changed over the years, those suffering still have trouble with public perception, even if their situations are under control. “Even if someone is being treated successfully, and has for instance worked in the same environment for years, when they admit they are mentally ill they may find that their opportunity for success is limited”
In the last few years, the mainstream media has begun to focus on the issue of mental health in Canada, with healthcare pieces appearing in major dailies and stories about high profile personalities surfacing.
“People like Ottawa Senators Captain Daniel Alfreddson and Margaret Trudeau are speaking out about mental illness. This helps. The public can look at them and see that mental illness affects everyone. But there is still a long way to go to eliminate those stigmas.” The ROHCG aims to address the needs of inpatients, and also help those dealing with mental illnesses out in the community. “One of the biggest issues we face is the lack of support systems in the community. Many of the people we serve have very difficult conditions. Some are also dealing with concurrent disorders, when addiction has masked mental illness for many years and made the illness more difficult to treat.” The ROHCG also helps influence policy directions in the municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as through its memberships with the Ontario Hospital Association and the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario.
The economy and mental health care provision
Weber says that although the ROHCG’s mental health centres are operating effectively and efficiently, there is concern that financial support will be challenging in the years ahead.
“Everyone’s affected. We’re greatly dependent on the tax base to support our operations, but have been looking for alternative sources of revenue to sustain ourselves. We’re moving forward with our search for new partners, and developing a multi-faceted approach to funding. We’re hoping to acquire more donors, and we’re grateful to our current donors for their support. We don’t have as many as cancer or heart treatment facilities, but it’s starting to get better, as mental health awareness increases.” Weber also points out that when times get tough, demand for mental health care services grows. “Most mental health care medication is prescribed as a result of one thing: stress. Things don’t get any easier when the economy isn’t doing well. Our number of clients is only going to rise during difficult times ahead.”
The key, Weber explains, is to increase the level of service available for outpatients and continue to develop new ways to support inpatient service. “We have the same struggles as other types of health care do: getting people access to health care practitioners, establishing supports in the community, finding appropriate housing while someone is dealing with an illness. Only sometimes, we have even greater challenges, because often patients are ready to be discharged, but are at risk once they get into the community if they are not properly supported. It’s then that there is more pressure on emergency services – people that destabilize end up in the emergency room. We’re doing our best to find ways to better the situation in the community.”
The one message Weber is certain needs to reach the Canadian public, in order for support to increase, is this: “We need, as a nation, and individually, to be sensitive to those with mental illnesses. We need to start treating mental illness the same way we would treat any other physical ailment. The future of so many depends on us doing everything we can to de-stigmatize, and offer the best support we can.”
Researchers and investigators at the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research are world pioneers in the genetics of mental illness and are internationally recognized for their work and role in:The development of new medications for mental illness and deviant behaviour:
- The understanding of brain function in psychiatric disorders;
- The psycho-biology of anxiety;
- The treatment of suicide and depression.