A decision by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Covenant Health to move a learning and development clinic has some Edmonton parents concerned for the educational and mental health needs of their children.
There are currently two sites in Edmonton that offer the Learning and Development Clinic – the Grey Nuns and the East Edmonton Health Centre. A decision was made in early June to move services out of the Grey Nuns site. It becomes effective at the end of August.
“It’s been a joint decision with Covenant Health for them to discontinue hosting that clinic at their site and consolidating it all at this site in east Edmonton,” said Christine Mummery, director of Children, Youth and Family – Addiction and Mental Health for AHS.
However, not all the children who are currently enrolled in services at the Grey Nuns will be transferred to the East Edmonton Health Centre, she said.
“We are looking at the Grey Nuns clinic patients on a case-by-case basis,” Mummery said. Some children will be referred back to their family doctors, some will be transferred to the East Edmonton site while others will be referred to mental health therapists in the Edmonton area.
Gloria Mason’s son Brennan, 9, has ADHD and has been at the learning and development clinic at the Grey Nuns for the past three years.
“He had this inability to focus and to do his work,” she said.
“He was also referred to the mental health therapists there. He was able to get bi-weekly counselling for quite some time to deal with anxiety and some anger issues and some other things he was dealing with.”
Brennan attends the clinic every three months, visits that mother Gloria said have been essential to his growth. Within the past school year, she said Brennan’s language arts skills have improved from a grade one level to a grade three level.
Mason said she only learned about the clinic’s move on Facebook and said there was little communication to parents from the clinic itself about the change. The news has made her anxious about the future of Brennan’s care.
“Between school, the doctors, mental health therapists, we were seeing huge gains – I don’t want to see that fall off,” she said.
It is a similar story for Monica Harper, whose eight-year-old daughter Mila has been receiving care at the Grey Nuns clinic for almost three years.
“She has developed tremendously… thanks to the clinic. We have a wonderful doctor that we see fairly regularly. She’s also been able to access counselling and groups. She has grown socially and emotionally,” Harper said.
Her first reaction to news of the changes was panic.
“Where are we supposed to go now? What are we going to do? What does this mean for my daughter? It was very unnerving,” she said.
Things are up in the air for Harper’s family – there is no indication yet on where Mila will go and what level of support she will receive.
“My main concerns are that she remains supported as she has previously been. [With the amalgamation,] I feel like resources are being taken away. I feel like doctors are being stretched thin. I feel like the nursing care is being stretched thin. Overall, that just means poorer care for my daughter,” Harper said.
She said she’s heard concerns from other parents about the accessibility of the East Edmonton site by public transit and worries from parents who already have children at the East Edmonton site about the impact of the influx of Grey Nuns patients.
Harper said she is looking at alternative plans for her daughter.
“I feel like there are a lot of really great aspects of children’s mental health in AHS. But I also feel like there are a lot of shortfalls and shortcomings – this being one of them. It really frightens me. We’re always looking at other options,” she said.
Mummery said there is a reason the two sites are being consolidated.
“We can really work on the quality of that program and make it the specialist service that it really needs to be,” she said, adding there was variation of care between the different sites.
“This clinic is really about diagnosing and making recommendations for ongoing care of the child and so we’re hoping that we can, by doing this move, and this quality improvement exercise, be able to accommodate more families than we originally were.”
Mummery said two staff from the Grey Nuns site will be moving to the East Edmonton site.
But Mason said the abrupt changes in the location and staffing of the site may be detrimental to children using the clinic.
“It’s the continuity of care that is the issue here. In this case, the children that attend this clinic are very much used to routine and the same things so change is inevitably going to be much harder for them,” she said.
Mummery said there will be a transition period to help patients at the new clinic.
“I know it’s a change. We will endeavour to work with [patients] and make sure they’re going to continue to get what they need,” she said.
Mason said she has only been given a phone number to call in August to figure out what the next step for her son is. She plans to take the wait-and-see approach and hope for the best.
“Nobody seems to know exactly what’s going to be in the future for these kids and that is a huge problem,” she said.