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CMHA Thames Valley rings warning bell over $2.6M budget shortfall

200 Queens Avenue in London where offices for CMHA Thames Valley are located. Ben Harrietha/980 CFPL

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services has announced that it is facing a $2.6-million shortfall, prompting the agency to begin “raising the alarm.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the agency says it recorded a $2.6-million deficit on total revenues of $52.5 million in the fiscal year ending March 31. This marks the first deficit in the agency’s history.

Pam Tobin, chief executive officer of CMHA Thames Valley, says the deficit is a result of harmonizing wages to industry standards.

“Our staff has been underpaid for a number of years and it’s not just our staff, it’s any community-based mental health and addictions staff right across the province,” Tobin said Tuesday.

“We have a very passionate, dedicated staff doing the work that they do every day…they have every right to be paid at the same rate as everybody else in the system.”

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CMHA officials say the deficit “underscores the critical need for increased funding,” and that difficult decisions will need to be made in order to balance the books. The agency does say that the impact on service has been minimal, but maintaining the level in the future will be difficult without more funding.

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Funding for the agency comes primarily from Ontario Health, with supplemental funding from London, St. Thomas, surrounding counties, United Way, and the London Community Foundation.

A statement from the Ministry of Health, which oversees Ontario Health, says that the provincial government’s newest budget has $396 million over three years for mental health and addiction services.

“This includes $124 million to support the Addictions Recovery Fund which will fund more addictions recovery beds and new mobile mental health clinics connecting more people to the support they need, when and where they need it,” says Hannah Jensen, spokesperson for the Minister of Health.

Tobin says if an increase doesn’t come, 30 full-time employees would need to be cut and services would need to be restructured.

“The delivery of services and programs is our number one priority, and every conversation that we have we start with, ‘will this decision that we could potentially make impact services to our clients?’ It’s one thing that we don’t want to do, but we anticipate there will be some…longer wait times.”

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A recent five-per cent increase in funding was given last year, but the agency says the added funds are not enough to meet rising demand.

CMHA offers several services, including wellness programs, crisis supports, police-response partnerships and community-based treatment services.

The organization says more than 15,000 in-person clients make use of its services, with more than 1,000 in supportive housing. CMHA also provided nearly 20,000 crisis response interactions through its crisis teams.

“The need for community based mental health and addictions programs and services are increasing, and supportive housing needs are increasing,” Tobin said.

“So, it’s an already strained system, and this is just putting additional pressure on it.”

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