Alberta NDP raises concerns with province’s mental health care services

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The Alberta NDP is criticizing the province's mental health care services. AP Photo

EDMONTON – The Alberta New Democrats are calling the province’s mental health care system among the worst in the country.

Monday, the party released a document outlining issues at hospitals across Edmonton. (You can read the documents in full below). 

“In all cases, the proposed solution or the proposed response is ‘we are reviewing this issue’ and that to me is very concerning,” said NDP Rachel Notley.

“The information is absolutely nothing new,” said Steve Buick, spokesperson for Health Minister Stephen Mandel. “AHS did a news release Dec. 2 announcing the detailed planning they had done as part of an exercise called Edmonton Zone 2030.”

“It’s a great thing for AHS to do. It’s exactly what they should do… It’s part of routine planning.”

She said this document — a briefing note drafted by the ministry and Alberta Health Services outlining different hospitals’ challenges specifically to mental health — is one example, but not the only one, of how the province is failing those who need help.

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“A government who had the priorities of Albertans at the front and centre of their work would have long since started focusing on this.”

“By a number of different measures, mental health services in Alberta are amongst the worst in the country,” Notley said, referencing a 2009 study showing the number of mental health beds in Alberta was about half the national average. She also talked about an all-party committee asked to examine the issue a few years ago and, when asked for background research, “they concluded that Alberta was the only province in the country that couldn’t describe how it provided mental health services.”

Buick said the NDP’s claim has no foundation.

“I don’t know where they got that. Claiming it is simply wrong.”

“It’s perfectly fair to say there’s more maintenance work and upgrades that need to get done at some facilities. That was the point of the exercise. But, it’s absolutely wrong to say that deficiencies in maintenance mean that people don’t get good care. People get good care in our facilities here in Edmonton and across the province and they get good care in mental health particularly.”

READ MORE: ‘It really is a mess’: NDP on Alberta’s mental health and addictions services 

The AHS briefing note outlines the problems at various hospitals:

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The document shows that, at Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, the risks include clinics that are difficult to manage and patients with developmental disabilities being admitted into the general population.

At the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, the document points out that facilities for child and adolescent mental health are housed in a small, poor quality space with safety risks and no access to secure doors.

The document shows, at the Grey Nuns Hospital, there are major capacity issues, and three patients with serious psychiatric problems in the same room.

“At the Royal Alexandra Hospital – same kind of thing,” said Notley. “It says ‘psychiatry for children, adolescents and adults are all sub-standard spaces that present risk to patients and staff.'”

It shows more mental health services are needed at the Sturgeon Community Hospital.

Notley says not only are there not enough beds, but patients and front-line workers are at risk.

“At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring that we can provide the care that these Albertans need. It’s about the staff but it’s about these folks that really need that kind of secure care so that they can get better and their condition can be stabilized. And that’s what we’re not doing well.”

READ MORE: Alberta invests $5M on child mental health 

“I think there’s always a concern on our part and on the part of the people we serve that there’s enough room for everybody and that there’s a place for everybody, “said David Grauwiler, the executive director of the Alberta division of Canadian Mental Health Association. “It does seem like there’s constantly a lack of enough beds and supports within the hospitals to accommodate the need.”

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“CMHA continues to meet and enjoys a great relationship with Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services and we continue to work on addressing gaps in the system.”

So, what does the province do with the information going forward?

“Within its own resources, AHS can realign some things to do what they want to do with their facilities,” said Buick,  “and some larger projects feed into the capital planning process and they become proposals that come to government.”

READ MORE: Mental health calls, ER waits tying up Edmonton police, says chief 

Edmonton police chief recently spoke out about how much time officers spend with mental health patients in Edmonton hospitals waiting to be seen by a doctors.

“We just have to sit and wait essentially,” said Rod Knecht. “Over the course of the year, it’s thousands of hours.”

Alberta Health Services: Briefing Note