In 1996, following the elimination of 130 beds at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital and in an attempt to transform “a service model based on hospitals into a community-based organisational model”[1], several key decision-makers from the Health and Social Services Network chose to dedicate the funds liberated by these closings to the implementation of a regional employment integration project.

 Between 1997 and 1998, numerous study, consultation and collaboration projects took place. Stakeholders and representatives from various sectors (community, institutional, government and service users) participated. Through these works, we were able to meet the socio-professional integration needs of people living with severe mental disorders.

 We then decided to put into place a mental health-focused social enterprise with the goal of:    

  • creating stable and rewarding job opportunities
  • offering good working conditions and competitive salaries
  • offering a healthy work environment focused on the needs of people and production
  • increasing relational abilities
  • increasing level of independence
  • allowing people with severe mental problems to reach professional success

In order to ensure job stability, the company operates in a viable economic sector. To diversify its range of services, ESSM must push beyond well-known niche markets by choosing economic sectors uncharted by existing socio-economic or insertion-focused enterprises.

The directors of the Louis-H. LafontaineHospital are mandated to coordinate the project’s implementation. However, we have gathered different representatives from the community, institutional and government sectors with the objective of creating a founding committee. This committee has a mandate to see that the project is implemented and objectives and directions are respected. We hired a project manager for the purpose of its launch, development and achievement.

In April 1999, the Entreprise sociale en santé mentale (ESSM) was incorporated. For the purpose of choosing our economic activity, we ordered both marketability and feasibility studies. In order to properly respond to the socio-professional integration needs of our target demographic, we organized focus groups with mental health network users. In November 1999, Collection Innova, a manufacturer of adaptive garments for people suffering from a loss of independence was established in East Montreal. From this effort was born the duo of ESSM/Collection Innova.

 The organisational structure put into place needed to allow ESSM to honour its social mission, which is to promote access to workers with severe mental health problems.


[1] Action plan for the transformation of mental health services. The Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, Communications Branch. 1998.