Mental health agency cuts jobs as it grapples with deficit


After posting its first deficit, a publicly funded agency that provides mental health and addictions services in the London region is cutting jobs and changing the way it delivers some services.

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After posting its first deficit, a publicly funded agency that provides mental health and addictions services in the London region is cutting jobs and changing the way it delivers some services.

The Canadian Mental Health Association Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services said Tuesday the organization posted a $2.6 million deficit on $52.5 million in revenue in the fiscal year ending March 31.

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“We are open, we are accessible and we are serving the community,” said Executive Director Pam Tobin, who took over last year. “There may be longer wait times, we don’t know what that will look like yet, some of the changes we’ve had to make are fairly new or haven’t been implemented yet.”

The agency will eliminate 30 full-time positions to balance its books, out of a total of 700 employees, he said. It also cut its 18-member leadership team nearly in half, to 10, streamline certain programs and change the way some services are delivered.

Officials say the shortfall underscores a “chronic underfunding” of community-based mental health and addiction treatment as demand and complexity grow.

They are calling on the provincial government to increase funding for mental health and addictions, and encouraging community members to advocate for it. The agency also notes that workers in the sector are often paid up to 30 per cent less than other health care workers.

The agency is funded primarily by the Government of Ontario, with additional contributions from the cities of London and St. Thomas, surrounding counties, United Way and the London Community Foundation.

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The local CMHA chapter received a five per cent increase in base funding from the provincial government. Tobin said it was the first time in a decade the agency had received more money.

“While we are very grateful for this, we have been told that this is unprecedented and that we should not expect it to happen again,” he said. “We don’t have our budget for this year yet, but we don’t anticipate an increase in our base funding, so year after year this will be in deficit.”

The organization operates crisis teams, case management and counseling, addiction treatment and housing support in Elgin, Middlesex, Oxford and Huron counties. Officials say their work relieves pressure on police and emergency rooms.

The Canadian Mental Health Association Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services was formed in 2021 when Thames Valley Addiction Services and CMHA chapters in Elgin-Middlesex and Oxford joined forces.

In a normal year, the London-based agency sees more than 15,000 clients in person across its programs and has more than 1,000 people in supported housing. Last year, it says it provided nearly 20,000 crisis responses and handled more than 43,000 calls to its crisis and support lines.

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The agency argues that its community-based programming and services relieve pressure on first responders and the health care sector.

Increased funding would affect “the entire spectrum of mental health and addiction care,” Tobin said.

She stresses that the cuts should have minimal impacts and should not deter people from seeking help.

“Customers are our number one priority and we want to ensure we have minimal impact on service delivery,” Tobin said.

The mental health and addictions agency is the latest provincially funded body to face a deficit in the London area, including the Thames Valley District School Board and the London and Middlesex Children’s Aid Society.

Terence Kernaghan, the NDP provincial MP for North Central London, calls the deficit a “crisis” of the government’s own making.

Agencies providing frontline services, including those in London, have been calling for more funding for years, he said.

“A $2.6 million deficit is really very concerning, and the fact that 30 full-time jobs are lost is unacceptable,” Kernaghan said. “Across our city, we see the struggles people are having with mental health and homelessness.”

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She would like to see the government distribute emergency funds and achieve wage parity across all sectors of health care.

Referring to the Thames Valley Board’s budget deficit caused in part by unfunded statutory benefit increases, Kernaghan said the provincial government was playing a “shell game.”

“The province has been putting pressure on our public institutions and then has the audacity to ask them why they can’t breathe. They cut back, they underfund, they disrespect workers and it’s just unacceptable.”

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