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Ford government announces $40.5M in funding for CHEO

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The Ontario government has announced CHEO is getting a $40.5-million share of $330 million in annual spending on pediatric services in the province.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones was in Ottawa for the announcement on Monday.

"The pediatric funding provided to (CHEO) will have a tremendous impact on children and their families, ensuring they receive faster access to care when they need it," Jones said.

The province announced an annual increase of $330 million for children's health care in July. The government says the $40.5 million CHEO is getting will help provide more surgeries, faster access to MRI and CT scans, and reduced wait times. The money will also go toward increased mental health supports for youth and an immunization catch-up program for children who fell behind on their shots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This consistent and stable annual funding increase will ensure CHEO can serve patients in eastern Ontario with the people, resources and technology to improve access to pediatric care and prevent backlogs," a news release from the government said.

CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter said the funding would allow CHEO to provide more care to more kids more quickly.

"For instance, with more kids in crisis coming to the Emergency Department every year, the new Mental Health Transition Unit opening today and the expansion of 1Call1Click will connect more children, youth and families to the help they need," Munter said.

Funding for mental health services at CHEO

Munter says about a quarter of the funding announced will help with mental health services, including expanding the eating disorder program and the creation of a new unit called the Mental Health Transition Unit.

The four-bed unit also including consultation rooms and spaces for kids to calm down and be seen by specialists. It offers up to 72 hours of treatment and stabilization.

Dave Murphy is the director of mental health programs at CHEO. He says the hospital sees some of the highest mental health presentations in the country. Between April 2022 and April 2023, the hospital saw nearly 3,300 mental health pediatric visits to the emergency.

"We are having a really hard time keeping up with that demand," says Murphy.

Murphy says often patients really only require a 24 to 72-hour stabilization period.

"It is about transitioning," he said. "It is transitioning from our emergency department into a program that can help do short term diagnostic clarification, safety planning and reengagement back with community partners and families to create a new safety plan…to be able to safely transition back into the community where we want all of our patients to be and our patients want to be."

Murphy says the new unit gives patients other options.

"Instead of remaining in emergency department, we can decant from the emergency department and have them here to be cared for by an multidisciplinary team."

Abby, who did not want to share her last name, has spent many times in the CHEO emergency department, suffering from mental health crisis, including suicidal thoughts.

She says she is grateful for the team at CHEO and believes this new unit will be "lifesaving" for some children.

"The ER doctors can't see that you are hurt and so it becomes a little less of a priority, and there is just not enough space in the ER," she said. "The ER is not an easy space to come down from crisis. When I am in a lot of distress, having staff that are specialized is help, a more calming space."

Abby says she sometimes had to wait six to seven hours to seek help and was sent home. But the following day returned to CHEO. "The next night I was back after a suicide attempt because the ER doctor decided that I was safe to go home. I think if I had stayed in a unit like this for even just a couple days and gotten a treatment plans in place, I would have had more hope. I still would have need a lot more help, but it would have lowered the distress for me, and it will be lifesaving ultimately for some patients."

Abby now is studying nursing and hopes this unit can help future patients.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque. 

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