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Psychologist shortage in N.B. school system draws concern as classes set to begin

Click to play video: 'Shortage of qualified psychologists has reached a ‘crisis point’' Shortage of qualified psychologists has reached a ‘crisis point’
Fri, Aug 31: New Brunswick's College of Psychologists says the next government has a big job ahead. It says the shortage of qualified professionals in the province has reached a crisis point, especially in the public sector. Callum Smith reports – Aug 31, 2018

Students and teachers are set to return to class next week, but some mental-health resources are expected to be absent.

Gregg Ingersoll, who is the superintendent of the Anglophone East School District, says of six school-specific psychologist positions, only three are filled.

“It’s certainly concerning,” he says. “Especially this day in age, when we know that mental health is such a big concern.”

Ingersoll says recruitment continues, and there are efforts “behind the scenes” to even salaries in the public sector; workers in the health field make different amounts than those in the education field.

Gregg Ingersoll says the Anglophone East School District has three vacant school psychologist positions. Callum Smith / Global News

The College of Psychologists of New Brunswick, who recently finished a working conditions survey, says vacancies across the province are an issue that needs addressing.

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“We’re still facing a real crisis situation in terms of shortage,” says College of Psychologists of New Brunswick executive director Mandy McLean. “I think the thing that’s really important to note is that the shortage is occurring in the public sector because most of our psychologists are employed in the private sector.”

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“Psychologists that are going into private practice are very satisfied with their work conditions,” says McLean. “Only 50 per cent of psychologists that are working in the public sector are satisfied with their work conditions.”

She noted a variety of issues were highlighted in the survey, including “being able to practice to scope and having the respect of the expertise that they have in terms of assessment and diagnosis.”

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Availability to complete professional development and physical work conditions are other factors.

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Anglophone East School District has six integrated service delivery teams throughout its coverage area, but in its second year, only three of those teams have school-specific psychologists; there are three vacancies.

“The New Brunswick Teachers’ Association is saying that it’s about a three-year wait right now for a child to be assessed and diagnosed with a learning disability,” says McLean. “That’s a staggering number in terms of early identification and prevention of some of these issues.”

Meanwhile, Ingersoll says they combat that by hiring private psychologists to do assessments because they don’t have enough of their own.

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Psychologists who leave New Brunswick to find employment in Nova Scotia can make up to $20,000 more in salary, while working 10 months of the year in N.S. and P.E.I., compared to a 12-month year in New Brunswick.

The College of Psychologists of New Brunswick says in the interim, efforts need to be made to bring private-sector workers to the public sector, but long-term changes are needed.

“Going forward, I think that government’s going to have to look at making some changes. If our neighbouring provinces are offering salaries and benefits and schedules in a certain way, then we need to be competitive with that.”

A spokesperson for the province’s Department of Health declined to comment on the issue, due to the current election campaign.

The results from the survey are expected to be sent to government and the health authorities in the coming weeks.

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