Reinventing Care: Bridging the gap between medical and mental health care

When the planning for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s new West 5th campus began more than a decade ago, words like ‘stigma’ and ‘integration’ were on the minds of many, but not yet widely used or understood – especially when speaking publicly about mental illness and addiction.

Kevin Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the St. Joseph’s Health System recalls clearly the discussions the St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s volunteer Board of Directors and leadership team had as they envisioned the future of mental health and addiction care in Hamilton. “We knew we had an unparalleled opportunity to transform how health care is provided in our community – not just for those with mental illness and addiction, but for all. We believed that through integration and education we could challenge stigma, and that St. Joe’s, and Hamilton, could be a lightning rod for change in our community with the design and re-invention of our West 5th Campus.”

With that clear vision in mind, St. Joe’s set about an ambitious plan to bring together under one roof research, education, and medical, diagnostic and mental health care in a way that hasn’t been done before in the province. The Hamilton community rallied behind this bold vision, contributing more than $10 million in donations to the project. “I think our community could clearly see that their investment in West 5th would be exponentially powerful; that they were supporting something that will have an impact on the thousands of people we care for, but also on our community and province in an even larger way,” says Smith.

That’s because the impact of mental illness on Canada is staggering. One in four people are affected by mental illness or addiction, and in an average week, 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to mental health issues. The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is significant, costing more than $50 billion a year when considering the cost to the healthcare system, lost productivity in the work force, and impact on quality of life.

“There has been great interest and focus on other diseases – cancer, heart disease – over the past decade or more,” says Smith. “And we’re seeing tremendous progress in those areas. A sick brain is no different than a sick heart – it’s solid, it’s cellular, it is biology. We need to place the same emphasis now on mental illness and addiction that we’ve placed on other diseases in the past.”

Mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and premature death in Canada – a statistic the team at St. Joseph’s West 5th Campus hopes to address through ground-breaking research and innovative, compassionate care – two important cornerstones of its model of integration. With McMaster’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences located within the new hospital, researchers will work alongside clinicians to advance care and improve the quality of life for those living with mental illness. The new facility is attracting some of the brightest minds in the field of mental health and addiction to Hamilton – like James MacKillop, inaugural holder of the Peter Boris Chair in Addictions Research.

“To see the vision our board and leadership team had come to life is very gratifying,” says Smith. “But what’s more rewarding is that we’re already seeing the positive impact West 5th is having on our community and our economy in Hamilton. Brand new programs, increased jobs – and most importantly, the opportunity to bring mental health out of the shadows and to the forefront in our consciousness and into the conversation. It’s time to end the stigma, and bring medicine and psychiatry together to provide the best possible health care to our community.”

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