Fostering an accessible and coordinated mental health service system

Cynthia Weaver, Chief Operating Officer; Teresa Scheckel, Program Director – Strategic Initiatives; Christine Simmons-Physick, Senior Director – Child and Youth Mental Health; Dr. Laurel Johnson, Clinical Director – Community Mental Health and Chief of Psychology.

With key components of an initiative to transform Kinark’s mental health services nearing completion, Kinark’s Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH) Program continued to build its capacity to provide high quality services through staff development and outcome measurement while starting to shift its focus to the broader service system last year, linking its newly reconfigured services to other community-based resources.

“The long-term goal”, according to Chris Simmons-Physick, Senior Director – CYMH, “is to foster a more accessible and coordinated mental health service system across our service areas—from crisis response to intensive out-of-home care and everything in between—with clearly defined pathways that are visible to families, so they know how and where to access the services they need.”

Guided by a new decision-making framework that Kinark developed in collaboration with its partners to inform service planning, coordination and new service investments, staff started to explore local service needs and resources with a view to strengthening the linkages between existing services, closing gaps and developing new services as required, based on individual community needs.

A new short-term intervention service, developed and delivered in partnership with the Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) and Peterborough Youth Services (PYS), is an example of joint efforts to address local mental health needs while enhancing the service system as a whole.

“When we looked at the waitlist for child and youth mental health services in the Peterborough area and the corresponding increase in local emergency department visits, we knew we had to do something to better support children and youth waiting for help—sometimes for 10 to 18 months—and to help alleviate the pressure on the health centre’s emergency department,” says Teresa Scheckel, Kinark’s Program Director, Strategic Initiatives.

“In some cases,” she says, “the new waitlist management service can address the kids’ needs relatively quickly and get them off the waitlist. Sometimes we can connect kids to other services in the community where they can get the help they need sooner. We can also identify those who need immediate support to prevent things from getting worse while they wait.”

In February, Kinark was one of 14 Lead Agencies in Ontario that participated in a province-wide demonstration project to assess the use of the Ontario Perception of Care (OPOC) survey tool in the child and youth mental health services sector. Developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the OPOC client survey is used in the adult mental health and addiction system to evaluate the quality of experiences clients have while in treatment. Survey results offer service providers feedback on a variety of quality indicators related to how clients experience the care they receive with a view to identifying opportunities to improve the overall care experience.

While most child and youth mental health agencies, including Kinark, monitor client satisfaction on a regular basis, different tools are currently used to collect this information. The goal of the demonstration project was to determine whether child and youth mental health service providers across the province should adopt the standardized OPOC tool.

“All of this work has been greatly enabled by the development of our program scorecard,” says Dr. Laurel Johnson, Clinical Director, Community Mental Health and Chief of Psychology. “We now have a common language—standardized assessments, evidence-based definitions of quality and objective quality measures, as well as real-time data and intelligence—all of which we can use to monitor service planning, delivery and client progress so we can make informed decisions to improve those aspects of care that have the greatest potential to enhance both the overall quality of our services and, most importantly, the outcomes children and youth experience.”