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Underfunding of mental health care puts safety at risk for workers, patients: OPSEU


Toronto – Chronic underfunding of mental health services is putting frontline workers and the patients they care for at high risk for their personal safety, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) told a news conference at Queen’s Park today.

“Premier Kathleen Wynne and Health Minister Eric Hoskins must recognize that the escalating problem of violence inside mental health facilities is tied closely to underfunding,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

“What we have witnessed in recent years is that mental health facilities only have space for the most gravely ill. This has led to health care units populated by patients who are very unwell and whose behaviour may be highly unpredictable.”

Thomas was speaking at the end of a two-day conference of OPSEU members studying ways to use the provisions of the Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to better protect themselves, and patients, from violence on the job. The OHSA was amended in 2010 to require that all workplaces adopt policies to assess the risk of violence and control those risks.

But the OPSEU president said much more could be done to dramatically reduce violence in mental health care. He called for more full-time jobs at mental health facilities, legislated staff-patient ratios, a firm cap on caseloads per mental health care worker, and mandatory fines for employers who operate unsafe workplaces.

Thomas was joined at the news conference by Ed Arvelin, chair of OPSEU’s 8,000-member Mental Health Division. Arvelin said the government should also adopt low-cost measures to deal with workplace violence, such as designated safe spaces for peer support following a violent altercation and mandatory self-defence training.

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931