The provincial and federal governments Friday announced an $18 million program of mental health, grief, and bereavement services in Cumberland, Colchester, and Hants Counties.

The program was one of the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission.

Recommendation #30 of the commission’s final report read:

(a) By May 1, 2023, the Governments of Canada and Nova Scotia should jointly fund a program to address the public health emergency that exists in Colchester, Cumberland, and Hants counties as a result of an unmet need for mental health, grief, and bereavement supports arising from the April 2020 mass casualty.

(b) This program should be developed and implemented by a local multidisciplinary team of health professionals with the ability to draw on external resources as needed.

(c) The program should provide concerted supports on an urgent basis and transition to long term care over time.

 (d) Mi’kmaw communities should have the opportunity to participate in the program either on a joint or an independent basis.

(e) The program should be funded to carry out needs and impact assessments in 2023, 2025, and 2028. 

Two weeks ago, Brian Comer, the provincial minister with the Office of Mental Health and Addictions, announced that the May 1 deadline would be met. Today’s announcement providers details of the program.

One Monday, May 1, a single outreach worker will start work in Truro. After that, outreach workers will travel to the various communities for consultation determining exactly what the programs will look like.

Then, a mobile unit staffed with a clinical team will provide mental health services and grief support in communities. The first such visit will be at the Bass River Fire Hall on May 6.

Provincial staff were unable to say specifically how many staff will be hired to implement the program, or how exactly the $18 million will be spent. Neither could anyone explain how the $18 million figure was arrived at in the first place — why not $15 million or $20 million?

Here’s how Comer answered that question:

I would say from a provincial standpoint, we’ve done a significant piece of work towards universal mental health care. Those for a significant portion of those priorities where we’re at with grief, bereavement, access to mild to moderate care for Nova Scotians. So a lot of that work was already underway as we kind of tried to work with the community. I’m sure, you know, the information can change, but shows a significant commitment, I think, for the next two years.

Though she thought the funding announcement was a good thing, Liberal Mental Health critic Rafah DiCostanzo complained about the lack of specificity. “They said we’ve hired one person; when will they hire the other staff that they’ve promised to bring in? They should know all this ahead of time. They should have deadlines — we’re hoping to have so many staff, so many counselors, so many psychologists. What is the plan? I didn’t hear it today. It just, you know, through out a couple of carrots and that that was it. So we need an update. Are they going to update us in six months? Am I’m going to wait two years to hear what they’ve done, what this money has been spent on and how it has helped?”

Generally, however, the money will go into three broad pots: increasing the province’s mental health staff, hiring for the outreach programs, and providing funding to existing community organizations such as community health boards, the Canadian Mental Health Association, family resource centres, and Roots of Hope.

The $18 million is split evenly between the provincial and federal governments, and covers two years of supports.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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