Honest dialogue during Douglas Institute’s first Good Neighbour meeting

By Tracey Arial


Many of the people who love the Douglas Mental Health University Institute participated in the organization’s first Good Neighbour Committee Tuesday, at 7 p.m., Dec. 3. The meeting took place at Douglas Hall, 6875 LaSalle Boulevard.

Several people entered the room wary about whether the exercise would be worthwhile, given that it doesn’t offer any official consultative powers to citizens. Their mood seemed genuinely upbeat by the time presentations finished two hours later.

The Good Neighbour committee is the brainchild of new Douglas Institute Director General Lynne McVey. McVey is anxious to improve her organization’s reputation with its neighbours as plans to build a $400 million building get underway.“We firmly believe that the contribution of citizens, of our neighbours, can enrich and improve our project,” said McVey. “The Douglas Institute wishes to participate in a genuine dialogue with the community by focusing on effective communication, transparency and mutual respect among participants. Contributions by citizens, businesspeople and community groups will provide invaluable input on our infrastructure development project. We hope many people will participate in this process.”

More than 31 people participated, including four presenters, two members of the board of directors (Pascale Martineau and Danielle Paiement) and at least one additional staff member. Even more people might have been there, but the first official Verdun borough council meeting took place at the same time.

McVey’s presentation about the Douglas Institute’s efforts in preventing suicide, curing depression and healing mental health illnesses throughout Quebec got widespread appreciation from attendees. Several people nodded as she said “we are discovering that the problems of depression and other mental health issues have biological causes just like other illnesses.”

Then she expressed remorse for communication mistakes made by previous administrators.

“I would like to apologize for breaking the trust with our community that was built over time,” she said.

Everyone in the room applauded.

Among those clapping were activists who defeated a row of townhouses on the property in 2005.

They’re also the people most wary about the current infrastructure renewal project, in part because the hospital’s prefeasibility plan was hidden until recently. That document describes a massive hospital that would cover almost all the green space in the northeast corner of the property and eradicate the popular Funville Daycare from the grounds. At the time, Funville administrators had no more information than off-site neighbours.

Funville board member Mark Thomas was at the meeting. He said that his board is now fully aware of plans for the daycare to move into the new building. He also asked for assistance from the Institute in maintaining surrounding fences that are now only temporary.

During the question period, several neighbours expressed appreciation for the services offered by various Douglas Institute programs. One person identified himself as a Douglas Institute employee and said that communication with management is significantly more open under McVey’s leadership than it used to be with her predecessors. More people began asking questions and making honest comments after his intervention. Three people mentioned concerns about traffic, “people running into the street in shorts in the winter,” drunkenness, drug packets on their streets, and rampant weed seeds blowing into their yards.

After each complaint, McVey responded with dismay, suggestions about how her staff might help solve the problem, or requests for more information. People visibly relaxed in response to her respectful attitude.

After McVey spoke, Hélène Racine Douglas Institute’s Director of Nursing described the new infrastructure project. She said that current buildings no longer satisfy needs. Rooms are neither big nor numerous enough, with four patients sharing each one. Employees currently move between 33 scattered pavilions several times per day, something that isn’t efficient. “It’s not a convenient location for patients.”

A brand new $400 million building must be built to solve the problems, she said. Plans now call for the new structure to be built in the middle of the property on the Champlain Street side instead of on the east side of the property, which is zoned parkland. A feasibility study is currently under way. Then the project will really get under way. Construction is expected to begin in 2021.

Several people had questions and comments about the plans. One man described himself as a sometimes patient of such hospitals and said that such large projects don’t necessarily improve the experience for people seeking care. He suggested that the hospital consider four small $100 million buildings instead of one large one.

By the time the meeting ended, several people agreed to join the committee, which meets again next May. Committee members will also be contacted for surveys and to participate in discussions as various phases get underway.

In the meantime, the Douglas Institute has created a webpage to share all the studies that have taken place so far and to communicate with Verdun residents.

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