Right in the centre - Closing the gaps on public policy


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

I am not sure if we will have room this week for a column from John Feldsted about the big international climate conference. Seems that Canada sent over 300 delegates. These conferences have been going on for decades now and don’t appear to be making much progress. John’s column explains how the goals of the conferences are based on some pretty shaky premises and agreement isn’t happening anytime soon.

Perhaps the problem is similar to a lot of issues, where governments set out to solve problems but often bog down.

One such area is mental health. Years ago, western Manitoba area had a mental health hospital. Most people called it the North Hill and the buildings are still there. It accommodated a lot of people and it was held in both high regard and, at times, disdain. Believe whatever you wish, but many people believe, that for the times, it served the needs of people who needed a safe place to be in times of mental and emotional crisis. In the wisdom of the government of the day, it was decided to close the facility. In terms of bed numbers, it has never been replaced. Certainly, there are smaller centres around the province but nowhere near the capacity of the North Hill.

The prevailing wisdom behind the closure was summarized by the phrase, “The communities will handle the needs”. That ,of course, is nonsense for the most part. It may apply in some cases, but in many instances neither families nor a community can meet the needs of a person suffering from mental illness. Whether it be depression, bi-polar, violent behaviour or a host of other afflictions, it is too much for the community to handle.

In spite of the best efforts of treatment centres, I was made aware of some real gaps in the system. A person who is in a mental health centre may become much healthier but once out in the community, they may relapse. 

If they run amok of the law and end up in jail, I have been told the government doesn’t share files between the health centre and the jail. That seems like a big gap to me that hampers caring and efficient treatment.

I have been told that people can be released from jail or a treatment centre at any time of the day or night and without proper arrangements for a caregiver or family member to be there. That has lead to some very real problems.

There are similar gaps in other government agencies. I know from personal experience in helping a person with their housing needs, that agencies don’t always play nice together. If you need housing in a Manitoba Housing home or apartment block and have to do so with social assistance, you may be dealing with MHA in one government region and with Social Assistance in another. All the while, the individual may not know who to phone and may not have the means to drive around chasing the bureaucracy. Also, if a person is displaced and therefore doesn’t have a fixed address, they can’t easily get social assistance. That makes no sense.

I would be interested in knowing if readers have stories that may shed more light on how disjointed government agencies can be. My aim isn’t to beat up on hard working staff or politicians but to make for an open discussion on how things could be improved.

The system is usually well intentioned but when gaps and outright silliness in provision of service happen, lives are at stake. Suffering and deaths don’t serve any us well so let’s close the gaps and in so doing help bring healing to our people.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.