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The Government of Manitoba is set to tackle addictions and mental health issues.

The province announced today it has officially launched its mental health and addictions strategic plan after the release of a report done by Virgo Planning and Evaluation Consultants Inc.

The 267-page report made 130 recommendations and found long waits for service, limited availability of services in rural and northern communities, gaps in the continuum from acute to primary care and an imbalance in how past investment has been directed between acute services and those based in the community were identified as the major challenges the province needs to address.

The report says Manitoba’s system is not on par with other provinces and can’t meet the current level of need.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement that the report provides a “fresh start” for the province.

“It sets out a bold, forward-looking plan to address the silos and gaps that have created significant challenges for Manitobans in accessing the services they need when they need them,” Goertzen said.

The report says the province should focus on four key things when forming its Mental Health & Addictions Strategy, including:

  • the creation of a seamless continuum of services, with an emphasis on community hubs or ‘focal points’ that bring key community and service agencies together in one location (24-7 access to psychiatric consultation, cross-trained staff in mental health and addictions, linkages to services in community, centralized intake), enabling person- and family-focused care and culturally relevant treatment options

  • increased emphasis on collaborative care models, building upon the successful model of My Health Teams

  • support for primary care providers through rapid access to psychiatric consultation like the Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise (RACE) pilot and continued opportunities for prescribers to enhance their competencies in addiction medicine

  • increased access across the province to timely treatment through Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine (RAAM) clinics and expanded Telehealth access

The report also recommends the province focus financial investment on a number of areas, including:

  • initiate external reviews of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba’s residential and community services to assess current screening and assessment tools and appropriateness of reliance on

  • 12-step facilitation in residential programs, opportunities for more flexible program content, appropriateness of current models of service for youth treatment and appropriateness of use of cultural-based approaches for Indigenous clients

  • build a blended funding model for psychiatric support – both salary and fee-for-service billing – and a provincial policy to require other parts of government to contract for psychiatric services through the public system

  • develop provincial standards and instate provincial licensing processes

  • increase funding over the next three years to reach the Canadian guideline of 7.2 per cent of health funding being allocated to mental health and addictions

  • provide an additional two per cent of health funding to make up for the historical funding gap

  • allocate eight per cent of the total addictions and mental health budget to prevention

Goertzen says over the coming months, the province will look at and consider each recommendation to see how they fit within the government’s broader approach. That work is expected to be completed by the fall.

The report also recommends the province gradually increase spending to tackle these issues.

Co-author Dr. Brian Rush acknowledged the province’s tough financial situation but says there is a significant cost to doing nothing, as addiction and mental health challenges place a heavy burden on the people and families who go through them and the systems that help them.

“People with these challenges are everywhere within the system,” Rush said. “This is a report calling for a whole of government response and a whole of society response. Health, Justice, Families, Education, virtually every part of government should own a piece of this report.”

As far as safe injection sites go, Rush says he supports them but didn’t feel they had enough information on that topic to recommend whether the province should utilize them. Some feel the province needs them but the government has said they won’t set any up, citing a lack of evidence that they would work in Manitoba.

Rush also said mental health and addictions workers need to work together and share information more often as the two issues are closely linked.

He added tacking issues like methamphetamine and opioids is important, but it’s also important to focus on alcohol addiction, which is the most prevalent in the province.

The report also states Indigenous communities, women and youth are most affected by the gaps in the addictions and mental health treatment system.