The proof is in the pudding...

Yesterday community and mental health advocates in London & Middlesex breathed a collective gasp as the London Free Press announced that the London Health Science Centre had pulled the funding from a transitional support program run by Connect for Mental Health, designed to help mental health survivors leave hospital and reintegrate into the community. The article stated how the program had been extensively researched by a two-year study by Cheryl Forchuk, and the program had been proven to not only have potential to save millions of dollars in health-care, but more importantly save lives. The public response was strong in London, many of us still being jarred, frustrated, and spurred into action with the memory of David Macpherson’s death in an overcrowded, unregulated home for mentally ill adults in November 2014 being all too fresh.

Our collective gasp was soon stifled by a collective sigh of relief when it was announced hours later that the Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins would provide interim funding for the Connect program, yet critics and community members (rightfully so) stated that this wouldn’t be enough and this type of programming, with funding support, should be rolled out across Ontario, a strong recommendation made by the research study.

A year after the tragic fire that cost David Macpherson his life, the LPRC asked the question in a community conversation: “What has changed since then?”, an event that highlighted the importance of transitional support for mental health survivors and the research behind it. This situation shows us that we never should stop asking that vital question.

As an advocate for research being an important tool to provide sound reasoning behind decisions, especially when human lives are at stake, it was worrisome to see that the body of research completed by Cheryl Forchuk and her team, main points of which are detailed in the Free Press article, did not play a significant role in the decision to pull the funding from the program, despite the LHSC expressing that they were pleased with the study’s results. The study was implemented, with funding to carry out transitional support activities, but once the research funding ran out, the sustainability of the program was compromised.

What this situation illustrates is how integral the research process can be in bringing innovative models of support and care to the table. Research can bring funding to community settings, and the resources needed to fund interventions and the careful evaluation of them, but the research funding and research purpose has to be met with a mutual commitment of research partners to ensure the sustainability of the methods that are proven effective by the research.

Efforts will now be taken to ensure that all the initiatives that are working towards a strategy for transitional support don’t act as ships passing in the night. The research process, commitments to funding interventions that the evidence proves effective, and efforts to minimize the length it takes to develop a province-wide strategy need to be harmonized in order to prevent this program, and programs like it, from falling through the cracks and getting lost in the folds of bureaucracy and jurisdiction.  Let this continue to serve as an example to change-makers and those working effortlessly to produce evidence-based community change.