How these Bay Street finance pros are helping mental-health agencies find efficiencies

Kyle MacDonald and Jeffrey Gallant just wanted to raise some money for mental-health services. They ended up starting a non-profit called Capitalize for Kids instead
By Karen Black - Published on Jan 07, 2020
Capitalize for Kids, or C4K, helped install a digital HR-and-finance system at Yorktown Family Services. (www.facebook.com/capitalizeforkids)

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Toronto wealth-management professionals Kyle MacDonald and Jeffrey Gallant had both encountered mental-health issues in their families and wanted to raise money to help others. “Mental health is an issue that’s very close to our hearts,” says MacDonald.

But once the donations started coming in, parents and front-line service providers began approaching them — not just about fundraising but also to share their stories. Macdonald says they all had the same message: “Kids are waiting 12 to 18 months for treatment, and it’s a big problem.”

Friends since they met at Queen’s University, MacDonald and Gallant decided to take a more active role in addressing the issue. So, in 2013, the then-25-year-olds quit their Bay Street jobs to set up Capitalize for Kids, a non-profit that provides free business-consulting services to youth-focused mental-health agencies. Consultants for Capitalize for Kids, or C4K for short, analyze the operating practices of mental-health agencies to identify efficiencies. Then they suggest ways to use those savings to improve services.

For example, three in 10 clients missed appointments with clinicians at the George Hull Centre, a government-funded children’s mental-health agency in Toronto. C4K recommended an automated appointment-reminder system to reduce the no-show rate and long waiting lists. After it was introduced, the average wait time dropped to just four months — more than three times shorter than before, according to Susan Chamberlain, the agency’s CEO. She says that the new system means that staff know about cancellations ahead of time. “Clinicians can better plan their time and fill cancelled appointments with another client,” she explains.

At another agency, Yorktown Family Services, C4K helped install a digital HR-and-finance system that saved 1,000 payroll hours annually, allowing it to see more patients while trimming wait-list times.  “Rather than giving us a fish, they taught us how to fish.” says Suzette Arruda-Santos, the agency’s executive director.

Kathy Hay, CEO of Kids Help Phone, says that, in 2018, C4K helped introduce a new platform that allowed the organization to reach its one-year goal of 140,000 text-message exchanges. Hay says that the most important thing her agency learned from C4K was “how to think about solving a problem by making systems changes and not just throwing money at it.”

Not only does C4K help identify problems — it’s worked with more than a dozen agencies so far — it also promises to fund solutions for three years. It does so using the proceeds from MacDonald and Gallant’s annual Investors Conference, which brings together top international money managers and investment professionals. With individual ticket prices starting at $3,000, the Toronto-based event has raised almost $8 million since 2014.

In George Hull’s case, $15,000 was committed annually for the new reminder system. Without that money, Chamberlain says, the agency would have had to “rob Peter to pay Paul” by taking the funding from treatment services — and it never would have invested in the system in the first place.

The finance pros, who, since starting C4K, have founded their own wealth-management firm, also introduced George Hull to big-name management consultants, such as the Boston Consulting Group. Having access to “these very bright and inspirational consultants was a terrific education and changed the culture so that we are aware of being efficient in all aspects of what we do,” Chamberlain says.

And its access to top consultants is something the centre can stress when speaking with prospective government funders and private donors, Chamberlain says: “It’s a lovely place to be when you’re going to your funder and saying, ‘Look what we’ve done. We have worked with the top consultants to get ourselves as lean as possible.’” When presenting to private donors, Chamberlain says, she’s now confident stating, “This is a charity that you want to invest in.”

MacDonald says that analyzing the inner workings of an agency may not seem like the most exciting side of philanthropy. “But when you can bring these wait-lists down and you have thousands more kids treated on annual basis, that’s when you’re really effecting change at scale,” he says. “And that’s the opportunity that we thought we saw.” MacDonald acknowledges that the child and youth mental-health agencies are “incredibly competent at what they do, but they are incredibly under-resourced when it comes to things relating to operational efficiency.”

Kimberley Moran, CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, which represents Ontario’s publicly funded child and youth mental-health centres, lauded C4K’s efforts to help underfunded agencies. However, she adds, “Even if they did that for every agency and really optimized, there’s still not enough money in the system.” She calls wait times a “crisis,” noting that 12,000 Ontario children are waiting for care. CMHO says that the crisis is fuelled by insufficient government funding and is advocating for more public funds, even as the Ontario government proposes funding cuts.

In 2019, the Ontario government invested $174 million in community-based mental-health care: $30 million was targeted for child and youth mental-health services and $27 million for mental-health supports in the province’s education system. But Moran says that the system has been underfunded for so long and “is in such a hole” that this investment has not reduced wait times.

Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott, told TVO.org via email that “solving our challenges in a system as complex as mental health and addictions requires data, performance indicators and common infrastructure,” adding that the new Addictions Centre of Excellence, which recently received royal assent, will provide such tools.

Data collected by CMHO and released two years ago suggests that children and youth are waiting up to 18 months for treatment in Ontario. The wait-time issue has a ripple effect, Moran says, because when kids can’t get help, they end up in hospitals.

Hospitalizations of Canadian children and youth for mental disorders have risen 65 per cent over the last decade, while hospitalizations for other disorders have declined by 24 per cent, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Kids with mental-health issues go to hospitals because they have nowhere else to turn, says Moran, adding, “I don’t know any other part of health care where we would see stats like this and not do anything.”

While C4K’s work currently focuses on addressing these challenges in Ontario, it does have plans to expand. “Given the scale of this problem, the number of people impacted, and that mental-health challenges are particularly acute among young Canadians,” MacDonald says, “there’s a lot of room for the organization to contribute.”

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