The head of a London auto dealership group is donating $5 million to a London hospital in the largest gift of its kind to support mental health research.

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The head of a London auto dealership group is donating $5 million to a London hospital in the largest gift of its kind to support mental health research.

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Ryan Finch, president of Finch Auto Group, announced Thursday the “landmark” donation to St. Joseph’s Health Care London would fund new research to make accessing mental health care easier.

There isn’t anybody at 49 years old whose life hasn’t been affected by mental health challenges, Finch said Thursday after addressing a crowd of more than 100 people at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute.

“It has touched mine and my family and my extended family,” he said.

But it was at work that he recognized the need to act. “I could see that there was a number of our staff who were hurting and struggling. It needed somebody to step up and put some oomph behind this cause,” Finch said.

Through Lawson Health Research Institute, the money will support the creation of a new research chair in mental health system transformation – the first position of its kind in Canada – to develop “collaborative initiatives that further mental health system change in London,” the hospital said.

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“This is someone who is going to help us reboot the (mental health care) system and look at what is a new and better way that we can offer services in this community,” said Jodi Younger, vice-president of patient care and quality at St. Joseph’s.

The system is complicated and complex to navigate, especially for those with a mental illness, she said, adding more than 50 per cent of people seeking mental health care go to the emergency room as a first point of contact because they don’t know where to go.

“It means people don’t have a path. Who do I go to if I’m having a mental health crisis? And how is it clear who I go to? There are lots of different services out there, but they don’t all necessarily work together to make it clear to somebody looking for service,” Younger said.

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Finch Family Mental Health Care Building
The Mental Health Care Building at Parkwood Institute sports a new name – the Finch Family Mental Health Care Building – following a $5 million donation from Ryan Finch to St. Joseph’s Health Care London for mental health research. Photograph taken on Thursday, June 15, 2023. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

The money will also support projects to improve the mental health system and help expand St. Joseph’s research project, the Mental Health INcubator for Disruptive Solutions (MINDS) of London-Middlesex that develops innovative mental health solutions for youth.

The Mental Health Care Building at Parkwood Institute will be renamed the Finch Family Mental Health Care Building to recognize Finch’s generosity, start conversations and “break down community barriers,” Michelle Campbell, president and chief executive of St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, said in a statement.

“We want to recognize Ryan Finch for his exceptional community leadership that will help to transform mental health care for patients and their families across our region.”

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The building houses 156 in-patient beds and supports people who require a longer stay to receive specialized mental health care. The mental health program has about 150,000 outpatient and outreach visits each year.

Speaking to the crowd, Finch shared the story of his family’s business and how he learned the importance of community giving from his father Brian Finch.

“He drilled this one into my thick skull a million times. If we do great in business, and we do great by a specific community, then you have to give back to that community.”

Finch chose to donate toward mental health because it doesn’t receive the support it deserves, he said, adding so many other issues – from homelessness to drug addiction and suicide – stem from mental health.

“In the end,” he concluded his speech, “I hope this donation improves access for people in need. I hope that this donation spurs research that leads to more treatment and breakthroughs. And I hope that this donation inspires young businesspeople out there to share their good fortunes.

“But what I really want to do today is let everyone out there that’s hurting know that we care.”

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The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

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