The need has never been greater. In the past two years, St. Joseph’ Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinic at Parkwood Institute has seen a 57 per cent jump in referrals for its specialized mental health services for Canadian veterans, military and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
To meet the demand for these services, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) will provide $2.2 million in funding over 10 years for the St. Joseph’s OSI Clinic expansion. The initial expansion of the facility, completed in September 2017, cost $1.2 million. At the ribbon cutting celebration in, St. Joseph’s announced, in partnership with VAC, plans to also expand its satellite OSI Clinic in Toronto.
“These expansions will allow our clinical team to care for more clients and support cutting-edge research,” says Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, St. Joseph’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “It will also provide opportunities to train more students in various health disciplines to assess and treat military members and veterans with mental health care needs.”
“Proper evidence-based treatment is key to help with recovery.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Don Richardson
Clients will also benefit from the latest treatment technology. St. Joseph’s OSI Clinic now includes a state-of-the-art virtual reality suite for the treatment of operational stress injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through practicing in the realistic simulation environment of virtual reality, clients can learn to face their fears and manage their emotions and reactions to triggers and stressors under careful supervision of a trained professional. The virtual reality suite was made possible by donations from the Byron and Lambeth Legions who contributed $40,000 from their Poppy Fund, and a donation from St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation.
“PTSD and operational stress injuries develop from exposure to trauma as a result of military service,” explains psychiatrist Dr. Don Richardson. “Many of our clients also struggle with a major depressive disorder, substance abuse or general anxiety, which further contribute to difficulties adjusting to civilian life. Proper evidence-based treatment is key to help with recovery.”
Following the re-opening of the expanded clinic, the foundation commemorated Canada’s veterans and the invisible injuries they often bring home from the battlefield at its annual Tribute Dinner. Special guest retired Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire shared his personal journey with mental illness before a sold out crowd at the London Convention Centre. His talk focused on themes from his recently-published work,Waiting for First Light, which chronicles his battle with significant PTSD since commanding the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994.
During the Tribute event, the foundation announced a $1 million gift by local business leaders Kyle MacDonald and John Franklin to support the work of St. Joseph’s Veterans Care Program. The couple hail from military families and made the significant gift in honour of their fathers, both of whom had distinguished Canadian military careers. Their generosity will enhance care for veterans who call Parkwood Institute home, providing needed medical equipment and significantly expanding the team’s research efforts in seeking new treatments for operational stress injuries.
“Philanthropy is an essential driver of health care excellence in our community,” said Michelle Campbell, President and CEO of the foundation. “The gift from Kyle MacDonald and John Franklin will enable St. Joseph’s researchers to have dedicated resources to significantly advance research into operational stress injuries that will develop new approaches to care for Canada’s military.”
About St. Joseph’s Operational Stress Injury Clinic
St. Joseph’s Operational Stress Injury Clinic (OSI Clinic) located at Parkwood Institute provides specialized mental health services to veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and their families who are experiencing mental health challenges as a result of military service. The OSI Clinic is one of ten outpatient clinics in a national network across the country funded by Veterans Affairs Canada. St. Joseph’s OSI Clinic serves Southwestern Ontario, the Greater Toronto area, Hamilton and Niagara and portions of Central Ontario. The main clinic is located in London with satellite clinics in Toronto and Hamilton.
Virtual reality treatment for operational stress injuries
St. Joseph’s Operational Stress Injury Clinic (OSI Clinic) has a state-of-the-art virtual reality suite. Virtual reality is used in the treatment of various operational stress injuries (OSIs). It provides clients with a way to re-live traumatic events in a safe environment under the guidance of a trained professional. Scenarios can be programmed based on the client’s experiences or to simulate situations they may be avoiding because of their OSI such as public speaking, grocery shopping and large crowds. Avoiding situations can affect a client’s ability to live a full life. The system includes life-like sounds and smells that can be pre-loaded based on the scenario or client’s needs. Through practicing in this realistic environment, clients can learn to face their fears and manage their emotions and reactions to triggers and stressors. Clients are provided with coaching during these sessions by their health care provider.