Initiatives meant to provide better access to services: officials
Staff at Eastern Health’s mental health and addictions program are trying to make navigating the system a little less daunting, but they admit finding the right flow is a bit of a problem.
With a variety of services offered in the community and at hospitals from St. John’s to the Burin and Bonavista peninsulas — an area which is home to 295,000 people — the task sounds monumental.
On top of that, the number of people seeking services has increased by more than 2,000 referrals over last year.
“We acknowledge navigation is very difficult in our program and it has been a challenge. But we are looking at how do we improve upon that,” said Kim Baldwin, regional director of community and children’s services.
Baldwin and Isobel Keefe, regional director of adult acute and specialized services, spoke to The Telegram recently about what Eastern Health is doing to try to manage wait lists and provide the appropriate care and services to people in a timely manner.
They say the initiatives range from promotion and public awareness campaigns to evaluating services and reviewing policies.
Baldwin says one strategy that has worked for the children’s program, which may be implemented early next year in the adult program, is central intake — a service that involves calling one phone number for help. A clinician assesses the situation and refers the caller to the most appropriate service.
“Central intake will really ensure if people call for help they’ll be directed to the right services at the right time, and hopefully they’ll have to wait a lot less, because there won’t be a lot of those people on the list that don’t have to be there,” said Keefe.
“I think central intake is going to improve our wait times significantly in a short period of time,” she said.
Baldwin said because people are unsure where they should go for help, they sometimes end up on different wait lists, and Eastern Health has no idea how many people are on multiple wait lists.
“So this will help streamline those referrals and provide the support and information people need,” Baldwin said.
She said she’s hesitant to talk about wait times because they fluctuate daily, and if somebody urgently needs services they would get them by going to the Waterford Hospital or the Health Sciences Centre, or call the Mental Health Crisis Line.
In recent stories The Telegram has written over the past week about mental health and addictions issues, it has been suggested the number of people waiting for services in the Eastern region is about 1,500.
Baldwin said this year there have been about 4,000 visits to the Waterford Hospital, and between 800-1,000 to the Health Sciences Complex.
Last week, Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan told The Telegram, “We see so many more patients than we ever used to. We receive about 20,000 referrals to community services in a year. We’ve got about 3,000 admissions and about 10,000 calls to our crisis line annually,” she said, adding there are several initiatives in the works to address demand, including new addictions centres.
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Baldwin and Keefe said some of the other new measures introduced in their programs include the creation of outreach teams that go out into the community and meet people where they are; the START clinic at St. Clare’s Hospital which provides rapid access to people requiring urgent care; a health clinic with the Salvation Army for people in need; and a peer support program with Consumers Health Awareness Newfoundland and Labrador — which provides support programs for mental illness in the province.
Keefe said the preferred option is to treat people in the community at home using a shared-care model with medical and family supports, but if a person feels they can’t cope or can’t be sure they can be safe overnight, they should go to the emergency departments, which is no different than if they were experiencing chest pain.
“Certainly some of our challenges, and I think it probably has been identified by the department as well, is the whole issue of stigma,” said Baldwin.
“Sometimes it can be a big barrier for people dealing with issues in the community and reaching out for help, and stigma also exists within the system in terms of how we provide services, so I think that has been identified as an issue, and I know a fair bit of work is happening on many different levels,” she said.
Baldwin said while a lot of the main focus of the programs and services is treatment and care, more needs to be done in the way of prevention and promotion.
“How do we promote positive mental health and prevent substance abuse issues? We do have a division doing a lot of work in that area such as partnering with schools and parenting programs, but we really need to focus more on it,” she said.
Some services available for adults
Mental health crisis line: 737-4668 or toll free: 888-737-4668
Gambling helpline: 888-899-4357
Mobile crisis response team: 737-4668
Opioid Treatment Centre: 752-4478
Recovery Centre: 752-4980
Addictions library: 752-4120