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ONA says understaffing at ‘unsafe point’ at Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia

ONA President Vicki McKenna says nine registered nurses and health-care professionals at the Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia are overstretched and feel unsupported, as they try to serve about 100 more clients than before the pandemic. Don Mitchell / Global News

The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) says understaffing of the Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia (HPS) has reached an “unsafe point.”

The ONA says program workers have been forced to provide services to almost double the number of clients, when compared to the provincial guideline on case management capacity.

Read more: Ontario government spending $31M more for children, youth mental health services

The result, according to ONA President Vicki McKenna, is that the program’s nine registered nurses and health-care professionals are overstretched, feel unsupported and constantly have to make difficult decisions to prioritize, which can cause undue stress on clients.

“They feel lucky to be able to do this work,” says McKenna, “but they are so frustrated and angry at times that they can’t provide the service that they know the community needs.”

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The ONA says conciliation was scheduled for June 21 to try to resolve the funding and staffing challenges, but McKenna says “they haven’t been able to make any substantive progress.”

HPS provides community-based treatment and rehabilitation for adults with schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses.

McKenna says the number of clients has increased by about 100 over the past several years.

Read more: Ontario to spend $8M to staff OPP mental health call program

“The stressors of the pandemic have really accelerated people’s need for mental health support services, adds McKenna, “so it shouldn’t be a surprise, I guess, to any of us that people are reaching out.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor, who’s also the NDP’s mental health critic, addressed the issues in a joint statement issued late last week.

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They said it was “disheartening” that the program’s nurses are “struggling to meet the skyrocketing demand.”

Read more: Ontarians’ mental health has continued to deteriorate throughout COVID-19 pandemic: poll

The Canadian Mental Health Association has urged the Ontario government to prioritize the sector after polling showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has eroded residents’ already fragile emotional well-being.

The poll suggested only 35 per cent of Ontarians considered their mental health to be “very good” or “excellent” this past March, compared to 52 per cent in the first round of polling in May 2020.

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