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Many Islanders will recall Dennis King’s well-known statement about mental health during the 2019 provincial election:
"On April 24th, one day after the election is over, I promise to you, the Progressive Conservative team, we will begin immediately with the replacement of the Hillsborough Hospital.”
Most people realized that was an overly political statement – just another bit of exaggerated fluff on the Conservative campaign trail.
But many Islanders – like myself – interpreted Dennis King’s promise as an act of good faith. And like many others, I thought the Conservatives would immediately begin the modernization of mental health services in our province.
And there was lots of evidence to support that view. For years, James Aylward – now minister of Health – had repeatedly raised heated criticisms of the way that health care was being guided. Time after time, Mr. Aylward assured Islanders that – if given the chance – he would have multiple solutions for mental health care.
Of course, all that culminated in the Conservative election platform – that promised a "fix" for health care.
So where are we today?
Nearly a year after the election, Prince Edward Island is further behind when it comes to the delivery of mental health care services.
Instead of a new Hillsborough Hospital, we have a deepening shortage of psychiatrists.
And more troubling is the fact that there has been no attempt to modernize the way we deliver services to Islanders.
Based on the five-year strategy the minister claims to be following, government should be providing in-patient services in all parts of the province, e-mental health and addictions solutions, online self-assessment tools and virtual therapies — none of this depends on a new Hillsborough Hospital.
As I travel the province, I hear more and more about the mental health crisis in our province.
Very few families have been left untouched – and it can be truly heartbreaking to hear the stories of people who are struggling. Equally disheartening is the fact that little effort is being made to support the families of those who are dealing with addiction and mental health issues.
For example, I talked with several people over the Christmas holidays with family members hurting from addiction and mental health issues. It’s the kind of pain that spreads – and I truly believe that a new chapter in service delivery has to do more to help the daughters, sons, fathers, mothers and partners of those who are hurting.
In other words, I believe we need to take a deeper look at the traumatic effects mental health care challenges have on our entire community – and then take the steps required to address those issues from a more collective perspective.
Now, I know the government is still relatively new. I get that. But the issues and challenges faced by an entire province do not come to a screeching halt during a transition period.
So, instead of making politically oriented promises that clearly cannot be kept, I would urge the government to adopt a different posture: Consult with Islanders. Do it quietly, sincerely and with compassion.
Develop a plan, and make it thorough.
And then? Follow through. Thousands of Islanders will appreciate that, and our province will move a long way towards addressing issues that are hurting far too many.
Heath MacDonald is the Liberal MLA for District 16, Cornwall – Meadowbank.