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Mental health help now a reality for Simcoe County children

RVH celebrates opening of specialized program
2017-12-19 RVH opens Child and Youth Mental Health program
Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau is joined for a ribbon cutting by RVH officials, Mayor Lehman, MPP Ann Hoggarth and Zach and Shelley Hofer. Shawn Gibson for BarrieToday

The Simcoe Muskoka Child and Youth Mental Health program is open and ready to assist the region’s troubled young people.

Donors, staff, volunteers and local dignitaries gathered Tuesday morning at the Royal Victoria Hospital’s auditorium as the day was marked with words of appreciation and thanks to the many that made the opening possible. A special visit from the Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau was greeted warmly by all in attendance.

“I’m here to announce an investment of $3.2 million by the provincial Liberal government to better support families in Barrie,” said Coteau. “The new unit that’s opened up today at the hospital will provide services to an additional 3,000 young people throughout the course of the year. This will make sure when a young person is in crisis they will have a place they can go to seek help.”

The opening was more of a celebration than a regular announcement with students from the IntegratedARTS program at Innisdale Secondary School holding up signs with encouraging words written on them, musicians performing and the speakers being upbeat as they give their speeches. Coteau acknowledged how far mental health awareness has come

“As a government we’ve been looking for ways to work with communities to reduce the stigma around mental health issues,” said Coteau. “In the past when there was mental health issue in a family it was hidden and real private thing. I think we’re at a stage now in our society where we realize that talking about it and removing those stigmas not only helps us as a community to support and put in the right services but it makes sure that anyone with mental health challenges has the confidence to come out and address the issue.”

The new regional program will feature an eight-bed inpatient unit, meeting areas, kitchens and even a Simcoe County District School Board teacher onsite during the 2018/2019 school year to assist that patients don’t fall behind in education. The unit will care for 300 young people each year and will accommodate 3,000 outpatients annually through a comprehensive day program.

RVH Foundation CEO Eric Dean was all smiles today as the goal he had been working hard to help oversee came to fruition and he personally was elated that the day had come. 

“It’s really an emotional day and we’ve been working with so many families and so many care-providers, social workers, psychologists who four years ago started teaching us how to tell their story,” said Dean. “I remember meeting with the social workers one day and they cried because they weren’t used to a community listening. The day is here and as they say the work really begins, but what’s great is the program is fully staffed and the team is trained and they have got used to the unit and have got to know where everything is. A very cool thing is everything here has been informed to us by youth; youth have been on the planning committees and have told us how things should look and sound, down to the rewording of the white-boards for patient interaction as well as the colours and images throughout the unit.”

The $5 million construction and equipment costs were funded by the RVH’s Hearts and Minds campaign while many other donors helped get the task completed. A standing ovation was given to 13-year-old Zack Hofer who successfully ran from Barrie to Ottawa and raised $100,000. Zack’s mom Shelley Hofer shared her personal experience with youth mental health and noted that while there were no facilities for her when she was younger, she’s glad there are now.

“I realized that I have a flaw in my chemistry and not in my character,” said Hofer. “The sun is shining today and I am so happy to know that there is help out there and we are no longer having to hide what we feel or in some cases aren’t feeling. I’m very proud of my son and everyone else who is standing up and not just raising funds but also raising awareness.”