New children’s mental health facility opens its doors

By Allan Benner, The Standard

The last time Shaun Baylis saw him, the former patient was a young boy suffering from a serious acquired brain injury.

Friday, Baylis met his patient again — now a young man in his fifth year at Brock, studying philosophy with plans of obtaining his PhD.

“This is the joy, right here, when people come back and say, ‘Look how successful I’ve been,’” Baylis said, after officially opening the doors of Pathstone Mental Health’s new Branscombe centre on Fourth Avenue.

Meeting former patients years later is something that happens quite often for Baylis, the organization’s chief executive officer.

It always inspires him, and there are plenty of children to be inspired by.

Thousands of children are referred to the Pathstone annually, increasing by about 10 per cent every year. About 300 of those children are currently on a months-long waiting list for treatment.

“When kids can get treatment, 80 per cent of them stabilize,” said Baylis, whose previous job was managing mental health and addictions services at the Niagara Health System. “It’s just phenomenal what happens when they have that connection.”

Baylis, however, estimated that there are still “about 5,000 children out there” in Niagara “that have no connections (to treatment) at all.”

But now that the $13-million Branscombe Mental Health Centre is finally a reality, Baylis hopes to be able to help far more children. And he hopes that by this fall, the organization will be able to see patients within weeks of referrals – rather than months.

“They will be seen hopefully within a week or two and move in through the system that way. It’s really exciting. That’s the goal. I don’t know that it will happen, but that’s what we’re trying for,” he said.

“I’m just kind of lost for words because it’s just passion that has gone in behind this from people, supporters, donors and staff. It’s had a huge impact and it just spreads like a rippling effect. It’s just wow! It’s just yahoo! Words just can’t express the joy I feel inside.”

Betty-Lou Souter, vice-president of Pathstone’s board of directors, said she knows children who grew up without the benefit of a facility like Branscombe Mental Health.

“I think it’s amazing to see this facility,” she said. “For kids to have this is absolutely extraordinary.”

The new building was a dream come true for Debbie Zimmerman, who teamed up with St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik to lead efforts to raise nearly $6-million to make the facility a reality.

“I’ve been involved for about four years now, but the idea has been a dream for some time,” she said.

Pathstone staff had been doing “an amazing job … doing whatever they need to do to help children,” while working in the old “antiquated facility” in Thorold.

And although Zimmerman said the organization’s staff would continue to do an amazing job where ever they worked, “this is a much better facility to treat families.”

“It gives them the dignity, the privacy. And the important thing is it gives children a chance to feel relaxed and comfortable in this setting.”

Sendzik said there were initially a lot of people saying “you’re not going to be able to raise that kind of money for a mental health centre.”

But thanks to the efforts of “many, many people in our community,” the nay-sayers were proven wrong.

“Today was an emotional day because of all the work that went into it by a lot of folks,” he said.

Baylis said the inclusion of rental units within the new building will help Pathstone pay off its mortgage within 15 years. Once the debt is taken care of, the rental income will then be used to provide some much needed supplemental funding for treatment programs.

“With government funding, we haven’t had an increase in 10 years,” Baylis said. “Therefore, you’re struggling with the numbers (of patient referrals) going up 10 per cent every year, but yet you don’t have base funding for wages.”

As a result, he said Pathstone has in the past been forced to lay off staff to balance the budget, despite growing demand for services.