Opposition and non-profit calls on Sask. to match new federal mental health dollars
The Saskatchewan government has begun its journey to seven per cent of health funding going to mental health. This will be a multi-year process that involves adding roughly $100 million to the now $284 million mental health budget.
At $284 million, that accounts for around 5.3 per cent of total health spending. This year’s increase is $11.4 million, just over $9 million goes from year two of a ten-year federal funding package. The rest comes from Saskatchewan’s coffers.
Recently, fentanyl and opioid issues have been grabbing headlines and national attention. Health critic Danielle Chartier was surprised to find no targeted spending for opioids in this budget.
“The fact that we’ve had four people die in the last few weeks here in Saskatchewan, this has been an issue that has ravaged other provinces and it is clearly emerging here in Saskatchewan, the fentanyl crisis, and there’s not even a mention in the budget,” she said.
“It’s a huge issue. Mental Health and addictions are tied together and this government is not doing what they need to be doing on both those fronts.”
Chartier also pointed to crystal meth issues being reported by police across the province. She said that the drug also causes issues in acute psychiatric units.
“There’s a lot of overlap between mental health and addictions,” Health minister Jim Reiter said. “You saw the $11 million in new funding for mental health, part of that will be addictions.”
The $11.4 million is spilt into three primary areas, mental health and addictions community support, youth support, and overall service delivery.
Direct addictions initiatives include expanding medicine services to address pressures in Prince Albert and northern Saskatchewan. Reiter added that the overall mental health budget includes around $40 million for addictions services.
As for targeted funding, Reiter said there are upcoming programs. This includes expanding the availability of naloxone, an injection that can reverse an opioid overdose.
Outside the health budget, $83 million is being spread across the government for other mental health programs, including supportive living in social services, school programs and the Farm Stress Line.
Non-profit budget reaction
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Saskatchewan division provides a wide variety of services for thousands of people across the province each year. This includes working with a handful of repeat violent offenders, all the way to public education sessions.
CMHA Saskatchewan associate executive director David Nelson is encouraged by the increased dollars coming to mental health.
“It’s really good that they’re putting some extra money in. We would like to see them match provincial dollars with the federal dollars,” Nelson said.
Matching dollars became a debate between Chartier and Reiter during the April 12 Question Period. Reiter pointed to the $275 million mental health dollars not coming from Ottawa.
While the CMHA is happy with the overall increased funding, they do take issue with their own provincial funding. Nelson says it has been frozen for four years now.
“It’s very hard for us to see how that error can be made when mental health is really coming to the forefront, and really how important it is,” Nelson said.
“We’re competing against other non-profits and against the formal for staffing and everything, and you can’t do that when the gap gets wider and wider.”
Based on inflation and rising costs, Nelson estimates four years of zero increases equals an eight per cent funding reduction. Just under a quarter of the CMHA’s $2 million annual budget comes from the province.
Nelson said health community based organization (CBO) funding, used to mirror social service’s CBO funding, at three per cent of the budget. However, in recent years Nelson said social services has been receiving more, while mental health CBOs have been stuck.
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