This fall, as the Child Psychiatry Program at the Jewish General Hospital commemorates its landmark 50th anniversary, its early years—as well as many recent achievements—are back in the spotlight.
The contrasts between modern times and the old days are considerable, with children now treated in the airy, light-filled Ruth and Saul Kaplan Pavilion, home of the JGH Centre for Child Development and Mental Health.
What has not changed, however, are the fundamentals of the Centre’s pace-setting approach to treatment—a strategy that involves not just the child, but a collaboration among parents, teachers, therapists, nurses and allied health professionals.
“We’re not a school, but a treatment facility,” says Dr. Jaswant Guzder, the Centre’s former Director, who stepped down this past summer after more than 40 years at the JGH. “We are coaching children and their families to give them the strength to master their regular school, which is the goal of treatment.”
This is why it’s so important for the Centre’s 56 children—half under the age of 7, the rest between 8 and 12—to return to their regular schools for one day a week, says Dr. Guzder. For this to happen, close contact between the Centre’s staff and the children’s teachers is essential.
“The new building, which opened in 2010, also helps to lessen the stigma of coming to a hospital or to Child Psychiatry,” adds Dr. Paola Habib, who became Director of Child Psychiatry this past summer. “Patients and their families are reassured and pleasantly surprised by the setting.”
What impressed Dr. Habib when she joined the JGH in 2014 was “its culturally oriented approach, with a strong emphasis on family therapy and a multidisciplinary approach, as opposed to a medication-prone approach alone.”
The Child Psychiatry Program was launched in 1967, with Dr. Ronald Feldman as its inaugural Director. Located on the fourth floor of the hospital’s new northeast wing, the program made history by establishing the first children’s in-patient psychiatric unit in a Canadian general hospital.
However, Dr. Feldman eventually closed this unit to make more effective use of funding, staff and related resources. “With that change,” he says, “we were able to more than double the number of children we could look after, while still tending to the needs of children who needed more attention, especially those with autism disorders.”
Much was accomplished, despite chronic under-funding and barely adequate facilities that persisted for many years, says Rosemary Short, who joined the JGH in 1983 and served as Head Nurse of Child Psychiatry from 1990 until her retirement this past July.
A major problem was having to spread various elements of Child Psychiatry throughout the JGH and in two external schools. Much of the treatment at the JGH took place on the fourth floor of Pavilion A, whose cramped rooms had previously been used for the JGH School of Nursing.
“The professionals didn’t even have their own offices,” Ms. Short recalls with a sigh. “Four or five people sometimes had to share the same office, and a lot of negotiation had to happen. For instance, staff had to decide when their colleague would see a family and whether they could still manage to make their phone calls. It was constantly a question of, ‘How can I get my job done? I have nowhere to sit and do it.’”
Realizing that Child Psychiatry was long overdue for a proper home, Dr. Guzder and Ms. Short began working on a proposal in 2005 that would eventually lead to construction of the Ruth and Saul Kaplan Pavilion.
Launched in 2010, the new building not only has an atmosphere that is more conducive to treatment, but it has given the department a centralized location for all elements of the program.
“That was the heart of my legacy here—bringing the department together,” says Dr. Guzder. “It has complemented the really strong consolidation of our research and our family therapy model, which I think is one of the best in the country.”
“We’ve seen the fruition of our work,” agrees Ms. Short, “and we’ve accomplished everything we set out to achieve—and then some.”