The opening of Lennon House is wonderful news and a long time coming. Led by Dianne Young, who tragically lost her own son to addiction, Lennon House has been a grassroots initiative. Community members have come together to fill an identified gap in service for those in recovery and in need of housing and treatment supports.
During the current COVID-19 crisis, Lennon House has received pilot-level funding from government to open in limited capacity for a 6-month period. However, the long-term status of Lennon House, and other mental health and addictions services in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, remains uncertain.
What we know
We know the preparation for a possible influx of COVID-19 patients led to the temporary closure of some mental health and addictions services like Unit 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the transitions unit at Mount Herbert. The immediate impacts for some patients were severe, derailing their treatment and recovery while putting additional strain on shelters services.
We know significant gaps in addictions services existed long before the current Public Health Crisis. I highlighted this earlier this year in my blog Pain and hopelessness felt in mental health and addictions . The closure of some addictions services at this time has only made things worse for some of our most vulnerable Islanders.
The lived realities of the pandemic itself are also creating, and compounding, mental health issues for many. Social isolation and loneliness decrease our ability to cope. Many seniors and those living alone are even more at risk. The possibility of domestic violence and child abuse are increased as people are forced to stay in unsafe homes. It has been noted during times of high anxiety and stress, the use of substances, such as alcohol, also increase. In a recent CBC news story, Dr. David Steward explains alcohol abuse is an enormous issue for PEI. It is becoming clear the immediate and long-term mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis will be many and wide reaching.
What remains unclear
After the temporary closures of Unit 9 and the transition unit were announced, I asked Minister Aylward for the rationale and plan for mental health and addictions services during the COVID-19 crisis. I have never received any response. At this time, it remains unclear how decisions around mental health services are being made, how priorities are determined, and what the process for reinstating services will be moving forward.
It is also unclear why it was decided to open Lennon House now after years of advocates working tirelessly to make this happen. This is wonderful and welcome news, but why is it only receiving pilot-level funding? What conditions must this organization meet to keep the doors open? Is this simply a temporary measure during the COVID-19 crisis, or will Lennon House be funded long-term?
We need careful attention and accountability
Prior to the current public health crisis, we were already facing a crisis in mental health and addictions. Now more than ever transparency, accountability, good governance, and careful planning involving both professional stakeholders and those with lived experience will be critical to meeting growing mental health needs.