It was years in the making but a community effort to vastly improve the mental health unit at the Queensway Carleton Hospital is achieving exactly what it set out to do: replace the dark and dingy department with a health care environment that’s far more conducive to healing for vulnerable patients in their time of crisis.
Dozens of supporters were invited Friday to the opening of a mental health centre that now bears the names of prominent philanthropists Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg. Almost seven years ago, the Ottawa couple helped to launch the Hopes Rising fundraising campaign for mental health at QCH with their $1 million gift. The campaign ended up raising more than $6 million, in addition to the $9 million from the Ontario government.
With the faint smell of fresh paint still in the air, the couple was given a tour of the brighter, more spacious new inpatient unit alongside such VIPs as Ottawa MPPs Lisa MacLeod and Merrilee Fullerton, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and several of his city council colleagues, and former Ottawa Senators player Chris Phillips, vice president of operations for the hockey club, and his wife, Erin Phillips. The Phillipses chaired the Hopes Rising campaign together. They were joined by Sara Cinq-Mars, who so beautifully led the popular fundraising galas held at Saunders Farm (attendees may recall her home-made apple pie that sold for $9,500 in the live auction). Also there were Kathy Turner and her husband, Denis Daoust, who also boosted awareness for the campaign.
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QCH board chair Atul Aggarwal attended. So did QCH Foundation’s immediate past board chair Ronald Richardson. There to welcome everyone was Shannon Gorman, president and CEO of QCH Foundation. Other guests in the crowd included QCH Foundation former board chair Karen Sparks, former city councillor Jan Harder (she helped to fundraise), campaign donors Bruce Linton and Heather Linton, Nishith Goel and Nita Goel, and Carey Garrett. Also seen was Ottawa lawyer Ron Prehogan, whose law partner Fred Seller from Brazeau Seller Law is chair of the QCH Foundation board.
The new inpatient unit, which provides intensive and acute mental health care, is twice the size of the original space. It features a new four-bed psychiatric ICU, a secure outdoor courtyard, a comfort room, and additional areas for getting exercise. There are now 24 private patient rooms, each with its own bathroom.
Patients will start moving in tomorrow, the hospital has confirmed.
QCH’s president and CEO, Dr. Andrew Falconer, told everyone how the mental health unit hadn’t seen any renovations since the hospital first opened in 1976. Meanwhile, the demand on mental health services has been rising, along with the number of patients presenting with more serious conditions. QCH is the only acute mental health services provider in the city’s west end.
Last year, the hospital served more than 12,600 patients with mental health problems, representing an 18 per cent increase over the last three years, said Falconer, who paused in his remarks to sincerely acknowledge two individuals who were “very, very important” in the development of the project: his predecessor, the late Tom Schonberg, who passed away in 2019, and Melanie Adams, former president and CEO of QCH Foundation. Adams attended the opening.
MacLeod apologized at the podium for getting a little emotional after telling the room how QCH was there for her when she needed its care seven months ago. She was an Ontario cabinet minister at the time. She spoke briefly about living under police protection, off and on for four years, due to physical threats made against her. It took an “incredible toll” on her health, the room heard.
“I came here in crisis,” said MacLeod. “I wasn’t well, and I ended up here.”
She told everyone why the investment made by the community, and in particular by her friends Crook and Greenberg, was so important. “Because when you walk through the door of a hospital it’s very difficult for your family. You don’t really know what you’re up against. You need the incredible care, and I had incredible care.”
The mayor thanked MacLeod for sharing her story while recalling how, when he first started volunteering in mental health and addiction more than 20 years ago, nobody spoke openly about mental illness. “Fortunately, that has changed,” Sutcliffe told the MPP and the rest of the room. “It has not changed enough, but every time a leader in our community like you comes forward, it opens the doors for so many other people to speak publicly or speak to their families or their friends or their co-workers about what they’re experiencing.”
The renovation and expansion of the Queensway Carleton Hospital’s Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg Mental Health Centre will be fully completed next year. The centre also includes 24/7 emergency consultations, outpatient assessment and treatment, and a recovery-oriented group-based day treatment program.
Crook spoke about how “very, very proud” she was to support the Hopes Rising campaign while acknowledging that its ultimate success was due to the involvement of hundreds of people and families from the community. She thanked those who “took a leap of faith” and “did not give up on this dream” to improve the mental health facility at QCH.
“The care was and continues to be outstanding,” said Crook, who first realized the department was in need of a massive makeover some nine years ago, after a family member had to be checked into the hospital for treatment of bipolar disorder.
“The old in-patient unit at Queensway Carleton Hospital was … how shall I say this … depressing,” said Crook as she described a hospital unit that, through its physical layout and design, robbed patients of privacy and dignity.
She told everyone how pleased she was by the improvements made to the new inpatient unit. “Dan and I feel that this wonderful new centre is not just bricks and mortar. It’s a step forward in the way we treat mental illness.”
There was a strong sense of community at the gathering, which included a Jewish blessing from Rabbi Idan Scher from Congregation Machzikei Hadas. “We’re all part of the Queensway Carleton family,” said Crook. “Together in this new space, for these vulnerable patients, we bring comfort, we bring healing, and we bring hope.”
Dan Greenberg has a deep connection to the hospital that goes back to when his late father, Minto co-founder Irving Greenberg, led the hospital’s first fundraising campaign in the 1980s. His family went on to help establish the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre at QCH. As well, Greenberg chaired the hospital foundation’s $35 million ‘Care Grows West’ campaign.
“I love this hospital, love this hospital,” said Greenberg, speaking from the heart. “There are many great hospitals in Ottawa but this is the greatest.”
Yet, despite his close relationship with QCH, the community leader didn’t know it had a mental health unit until his wife’s relative ended up receiving care there. When he found out, he was “shocked” that nobody had previously mentioned the department to him. “Can you answer me why? Can anyone tell me why? I don’t think so, but I think we can guess what some of the reasons were.
“The reality is, we cannot yet talk about mental health in the same way we talk about heart disease or kidney disease or cancer, and that’s wrong. I think it goes back to what the mayor mentioned. It’s changing, it’s changing. Thank God it’s changing.”
Greenberg said he and his wife were happy to have their name added to the new centre, especially if it means helping “to reduce the stigma and promote the day when we can talk about mental health”.
This is the first time the couple have put their own names on a building. “Again, we love this hospital,” said Greenberg.