A long-time resident in a part of the province affected by the Nova Scotia 2020 mass shooting, says the province’s plan for enhanced mental health services is already falling short.
Shelly Tower has lived in Bass River for 33 years and says after the April 2020 tragedy began in Portapique a short distance away from her home, she and her husband sheltered in place, fearing for their lives.
She says she and other community members are still traumatized — something she believes has never been addressed.
“[The province] promised all this wonderful stuff this week, we knew nothing here in Bass River,” she says, her voice shaking.
Friday, the province’s minister in charge of Nova Scotia’s Office of Addictions and Mental Health, Brian Comer, announced $18 million in joint spending with Ottawa to go towards the mental health care needs of residents affected by the mass shooting three years ago.
The government’s plan was released just a few days before a May 1 deadline set by the Mass Casualty Commission, which recommended the province address what it called an existing “public health emergency” after it said the province’s mental health assistance had fallen short.
According to Comer, one new mental health outreach worker would go on the job in Truro, N.S., starting Monday, and a mobile health team would travel throughout Colchester, Cumberland, and Hants counties on Saturdays in May.
The first stop is supposed to be Saturday, May 6 at the Bass River Fire Hall.
“I went down to the local … store this morning,” says Tower, “and no one knew anything about the outreach worker. No one knows anything about a crisis team.
“Nobody knows about a schedule of what’s going to happen.”
Tower is angry about the lack of specifics. “What happens if people work on Saturday?” she asks, “It’s not what they need. There’s still stigma here about getting mental health.”
“There’s grief here, there’s trauma … people don’t smile like they used to, they don’t gather and talk like they used to,” she adds, “[and] nobody’s listening.”
The PC MLA for the area, Tom Taggart, says he understands the frustration.
A family pays their respects to victims of the mass killings at a checkpoint on Portapique Road in Portapique, N.S. on Friday, April 24, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
“Things move slow, but we have to get them right,” says Taggart. “[The plan] allows the Department of Health to be a little bit nimble … to get a good understanding of what we need to do. And then we can focus on that.”
“I truly understand the frustration,” he adds, “people are anxious, certainly those who have been feeling that they needed some support and weren’t getting it.”
“But I am confident. I have faith,” Taggart says.
The District 10 councillor for Colchester County, which includes Portapique, Bass River, Five Houses, and Glenholme, says she is hopeful, even as she too awaits more information on the plan.
“People have wanted and have been crying for all levels of health care for ages here in Nova Scotia,” said Victoria Lomond. “To [have] a ‘dangling carrot’ in front of your face isn’t always the thing you need when you’re struggling.”
An RCMP officer talks with a local resident before escorting them home at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
“The need for folks to get mental health [help] for more quickly is really important, and it’s not unique to the last three years,” Lomond says.
“We’ve had so many huge life-changing things happening around us in the last while that makes everything seem so much worse.
“So having the ability to reach out and have a connection made quicker, beyond the crisis line, is really important for people.”
CTV News asked the Department of Health and Wellness for more information, including details about the new outreach worker in Truro.
Department spokesperson Khalehla Perrault said it would be “premature” for CTV to interview the worker, and residents who need mental health assistance should call 211 “to be connected with what they need.”
Perrault added Comer is expected to provide an update this week on the new plan.