Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU) members were joined by clients for a rally outside of Greater Napanee town hall on May 14 in an effort they say is to keep addictions and mental health programs in the community.
Also showing their support was members of Save Our Services KFL&A, who held signs and marched in front of town hall peacefully in response to recent changes announced by Addictions Mental Health Services Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington (AMHS KFLA).
In a press release sent out May 7, AMHS KFLA stated the organization has ‘not kept pace with advancements in addictions and mental health care and offered a broad range of services that are more appropriately provided by other community partners.’
Citing an investigation initiated by the South East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), the report indicated the agency had ‘drifted from its mission and was no longer delivering on its mandate. Moreover, that it was necessary to refocus and realign the financial, clinical, leadership and governance efforts of the agency to better serve the people of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington who need addiction and mental health care.’
“The changes we make today will ensure clients and families have improved access to an integrated system of care-one that relies on proven evidence-informed practices and advancements to support the journey to recovery,” Karen Berti, supervisor for AMHS KFLA, said in a release.
“Napanee’s virtually just about lost everything,” said Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas, OPSEU president who was among the 25 or so people gathered for the rally. “You’re down to you ring a buzzer and there might be somebody there, there may not be.”
Thomas said the reorganization has also meant some clients who had developed long term relationships with a particular staff member, some that go back 25 years, could now be losing that service.
“There used to be two people at Quinte Detention Centre who would work with people who found themselves on the wrong end of the law and found themselves in jail,” added Thomas. “They’d work with them to integrate them into the community. That service has been cut in half and really in peril of being lost altogether.”
Thomas said the union plans to meet with local MPPs in the coming weeks to discuss their concerns, as well as advocating to local councils to send letters of support.
“They’ve done a lot of damage right now,” Thomas said of the reorganization. “Big damage in Kingston, but in smaller communities like Napanee, you take away what little you had and now you literally have nothing. It’s just wrong. They should be investing in these small communities, not making people travel to Kingston to get on waiting lists that could be two or three years long to get services.”
Thomas said they feel the need to push back because once the services are gone they are even harder to get back.
Ann-Marie Kungl, communications lead with AMHS KFLA, disagrees with OPSEU’s assessment.
“We are not reducing services,” Kungl said in a release. “Changes are underway to improve program and service models and increase access for those who have been waiting, sometimes for years. At this time we are hiring over 50 positions, of which 45 are unionized (OPSEU) roles.”
Kungl adds they are hiring a peer navigator, which she says will be a role filled by an individual with “lived experience related to addictions and mental health that will be situated at our Napanee office as the first point of contact for clients.”
Save our Services KFLA has organized a town hall style meeting on May 27 at 5 p.m. at the Napanee Lion’s Hall. The meeting will be open to all members of the public interested in learning more about what the reorganization will mean for services in Napanee. Members from AMHS KFLA will also make a presentation at the meeting.
Anyone with questions can call the main AMHS KFLA office at 613-544-1356 or e-mail email@example.com.
*This story has been updated to include a statement from AMHS KFLA