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CMHA Windsor-Essex explores changing hours of operation to meet rising demand for mental health services

Sanjay Maru, CTV Windsor
June 28, 2023

The Canadian Mental Health Association of Windsor-Essex (CMHA) is reevaluating its operations in response to the growing demand for mental health and addiction services beyond traditional office hours, according to its CEO.

Since May 12, nurses with Windsor Regional Hospital have been paired with city police officers to provide on-site care to people experiencing mental health and addictions issue on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Those hours of operation for the nurse-police team (NPT) program were found to be the busiest times when people need care the most.

In an interview with CTV News on June 23, Musyj said there was a strong need for this program since many organizations and programs dealing with mental health and addictions are only open Monday through Friday during the daytime.

“That’s not when the demand is. So it’s modifying that and looking at, maybe, providing the same services but just later into the evening hours,” said Musyj, when asked about ways for existing organizations to address these crises.

One of those organizations is the Canadian Mental Health Association of Windsor-Essex. Their office is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is closed on weekends.

Meanwhile, at the most recent meeting of the Windsor Police Services Board, members said upper levels of government and other community partners need to step up and help alleviate the pressures currently on police officers and emergency room nurses.

After hearing about the benefits of the NPT program, Windsor Police Services Board chair Drew Dilkens said service providers need to “adjust the roles that they play in the community to better align with the needs that we see happening in the community.”

CTV News invited Sonja Grbevski, CEO for the Windsor-Essex CMHA, to address these concerns. This interview has been edited for clarity and length:

Q: There seems to be a lot of talk in the last week that addressing the mental health and addictions crises may not just require funding. Rather, one solution may be to take existing organizations, services and programs and pushing their hours of operation into the night and weekends. First off, have you heard those concerns?

Grbevski: That’s a conversation we’re continuously having. It’s not just about opening and expanding hours. What services do we need to provide? For instance, I’ll give you an example, in counseling and therapy, no one’s going to come at 9 p.m. It doesn’t make sense. Now, a crisis centre or some other type of service may be required to have extended hours. But I think there’s also a balance with that.

When you’re looking at an organization like the CMHA, we actually do have extended hours. Our normal operating hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. However, we have many more programs that go on in the evenings. However, they’re specialized and they’re targeted services and are all by appointment. So it’s not as if someone can just pop in. For the most part, that’s not the type of service that we offer. It’s very much appointment-based. Anyone who has a touch point with mental health and addiction services agrees we need to coordinate this much better. That is absolutely non-deniable.

Q: Has there been any thought to pushing your regular hours back, later into the evening, and, perhaps, into nights and weekends when we’ve been told demand increases?

Grbevski: That is absolutely something we’re looking at. When it comes to weekends, we’ll have to take a look at what’s going to work and what’s not going to work, but you have to try it. That is true. Just as a reminder, we do have our Wellness and Crisis Centre which is open seven days a week, from, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Is that something we can push the envelope on? Maybe until 10 p.m.?

Q: What’s the biggest challenge of meeting this demand for care?

Grbevski: Part of it is we have to change our structure. If you look at our budget, you’d have to take away from something to add something else. That poses a hardship because everything’s important. These decisions have to very calculated and understood. It’s the collective approach and assessing who’s going to do what. I’m sure, in the next little while, we’ll start seeing some changes in operations, starting with my organization. The other piece is, and I think I’ve said this in the past as well, it’s not necessarily the hours of operation. It’s also looking at what type of service needs to go out into the community to help engage with individuals that require mental health and addiction services.

We’ve been talking a lot in our community about some form of urgent assessment centre, specializing in mental health and addictions. If police were to encounter a situation and bring them to an assessment centre that is open 24 hours, they would have the proper staff and all the elements required for that type of intervention. A police officer can’t pick somebody up that’s acting out in a certain way and then bring into my centre. I don’t have that environment set up. So this is, I believe, where we should be heading.

Q: It’s interesting you mention that because, just this week, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare announced plans to build what would essentially be an emergency room specifically for people experiencing a mental health crisis. For people who aren’t too familar with the CMHA and assume your organization is a place where people in these situations could be dropped off and taken care of immediately, what would you say to them?

Grbevski: I would absolutely love that and welcome that. However, we have to be responsible in terms of what we’re doing. I know we’re in healthcare and band-aids help but that’s not how you build a system. For us to be able to provide additional hours move significantly later in the evening, I would absolutely explore and welcome that opportunity. I’d also look at redefining some of our services.

Following this interview, CTV News reached back out to Grbevski to gather more information on the Wellness and Crisis Centre. Grbevski said the centre, which began operating in 2018, is not a place where patients can stay overnight because the provincial government did not approve licensing for a “bedded component.”

“I am looking at one of my program areas for stabilization beds. Though, we are very early with exploring with our funders,” Grbevski said in a statement.

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