Advocate, MHA suggest response isn’t enough
Health Minister Susan Sullivan says the provincial government is responding to the increasing number of people needing mental-health and addictions services.
“There is no question we are seeing more and more demand, and in response to that we’re spending $100 million annually,” she said. “We’ve got about 900 men and women working in mental health and addictions programs throughout four regional health authorities in about 59 different offices.”
But a mental-health advocate and a Liberal politician say it’s not just about the money.
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said the constant refrain from the PC government is always the same — “‘we’ve invested this much,’ and the answer for me is, if you’re not measuring your outcomes, what are you getting for the increased investment? Health care should be outcome-based, and you can talk about all the money you want, there’s no point if you’re not getting the results,” he said.
Parsons, the MHA for Burgeo-La Poile, said the government has to address the issues and then work on solutions, such as cutting down the wait times to see a professional.
“They’re just too long. You have these individuals, in many cases, who need to connect, need to talk right away, and when they can’t access professionals it’s a huge issue for them,” he said.
Vince Withers, former chairman of the provincial mental health and addictions advisory council, agrees.
He attended a forum recently with Eastern Health and said the number of people thought to be on the waiting list for services was about 1,500.
“How can you and I accept that 1,500 to 2,000 people are on wait lists especially if they have mental health (problems) and addictions? Some of those can wait obviously, but many people need treatment today,” said Withers, who stepped down as the advisory council’s chairman in October after 3 1/2 years.
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In an attempt to confirm the wait list numbers, The Telegram contacted the Department of Health and Community Services.
“Wait lists for mental-health and addictions services, like any wait list, has its ebbs and flows, and while there are some reductions in the length of time people are waiting for services, there is fluctuation,” said an emailed response.
“Wait lists exist primarily in counselling services,” it said.
“The frustration here is with access to the system,” said Withers.
“The hard fact is the wait list is long, not only in terms of numbers, but wait times as well, and the problem is so much greater in that the services being provided is not able to handle the number of people requiring it.”
Sullivan said a number of strategies are underway in order to address those concerns such as the construction of two new centres for youth, an adult addictions centre in Harbour Grace and the replacement of the Waterford Hospital.
As well, she said the Mental Health Crisis Line has been running for some time. There’s a psychiatric assessment unit at Eastern Health, there are three assertive community treatment teams operating in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, 20 case managers in rural areas, 20 youth outreach workers and 66 psychiatrists.
How can you and I accept that 1,500 to 2,000 people are on wait lists especially if they have mental health (problems) and addictions? Some of those can wait obviously, but many people need treatment today. Vince Withers, former chairman, provincial mental health and addictions advisory council
“Apart from that there are self-help, peer, support groups, out-patient counselling initiatives ongoing right now. I think we’re able to point to a number of initiatives that really are working, as well we give about $5.4 million to about 10 groups doing work for us out there,” said Sullivan during a break from the House of Assembly.
She said the department is also kicking off an anti-stigma campaign and an e-mental health program early next year.
Withers said government has been working on these programs for a couple of years, and while they are good ideas, the government needs to move faster.
“The new centres were announced years ago,” he said. “People are out there waiting for those beds. It’s the process of once an idea is approved and budgeted, the time it takes to get something in place is too long. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency.”
Parsons said he took a tour of the Waterford Hospital two weeks ago and there is no doubt the facility needs to be replaced.
“It scares me, because if you look at something as big as that, and now we’ve been waiting five years for a 12-bed facility in Paradise, how long are we going to have to wait for a new mental health facility to replace the Waterford?” he said.