Nova Scotia aims to decrease lengthy mental-health wait times

Lack of mental health services at new N.S. outpatient centre
Wait times in Nova Scotia for mental-health services are historically long but increased funding aims to reduce them.

In a province with extensive wait times for mental-health treatment, some mental-health advocates say access to supports in the province are limited unless somebody is experiencing a mental-health emergency.

“There actually is minimal to no access for those services at all and many of them that are just while somebody’s in crisis. They don’t actually provide anyone with the tools to become a recovering person from whatever they’re struggling with,” said Rachael Dent-Flynn, who advocates for mental-health treatments.

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Nova Scotia had 134 suicides reported in 2016, up from 75 in the year 2000; it’s part of a two-decade-long increase in the reported number of suicides to Statistics Canada.

The province has recently updated its plans to build a new hospital and community outpatient centre in Halifax — however, mental-health services weren’t included.

READ MORE: Suicide rate rising in Nova Scotia: Statistics Canada

Samantha Hodder is the director of mental health and addictions for the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA).

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She says the amalgamation of nine district health authorities into the Nova Scotia Health Authority in 2015, has led to a massive review of the mental health and addictions system within the province and the development of a pathway forward called Milestones in our Journey.

“We know that this transformation, what’s required, what’s needed, for mental health and addiction, is actually a transformation. It’s a different way of facilitating and doing our work,” Hodder said.

New investments, new directions

The last recorded wait-time data for people seeking mental-health services in Halifax is 112 days.

The public wait-time website is run by the provincial government and was last updated over a year ago.

The wait time for that timeframe shows 363 days for people looking to access mental-health services in Sydney, Cape Breton.

Hodder says changes are being made to reduce wait times and the times that are shown on that website aren’t reflective of what people are experiencing at present because new provincial standards have been set.

“If somebody has a scheduled visit within our community mental health and addictions and they have an urgent need, the standard is seven days and that if they have a non-urgent need, or what we would call regular within our system the standard is 28 days and that is actually lined up with the IWK as well,” Hodder said.

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She adds that monitoring and reporting of new provincial wait time standards are currently underway and that a new website will be updated once they have data collected and analyzed.

WATCH: Nova Scotia’s auditor general takes aim at the province’s mental-health-care services and ‘poor’ communication

Nova Scotia’s auditor general takes aim at the province’s mental health care services and ‘poor’ communication
Nova Scotia’s auditor general takes aim at the province’s mental health care services and ‘poor’ communication

The other main area of change Hodder points to is what she calls a central intake system.

“We will have one number and so when someone calls who actually needs help, they will get that same level of screening and clinical level of interview anywhere across the province,” she said.

Hodder says prior to the creation of a central intake system, there was a lack of consistency with how people were brought into the mental health and addictions system.

“Very disjointed and in some areas, there were 30 or 40 different ways in terms of how someone entered into our system and it was not streamlined or co-ordinated,” she said.

Tackling wait times

New provincial funding for mental health and addictions is being targeted at decreasing years of lengthy wait times and “disjointed” intake services.

“We know people who are in need of mental health and addiction-related services in our community clinics, they are waiting too long and one of the important things for us in moving forward is that we are actually utilizing the resources that are invested into our system to enhance the community and mental health and addiction services,” Hodder said.

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The province has increased funding for mental health and addictions to $287 million for this year.

READ MORE: Immigrant, refugee youth end up in ER for mental health care more than others

Hodder says increased funding for mental health and addiction services across the country is leading to success stories.

She points to a reduction in treatment times for opioid addiction in Nova Scotia as an example of positive change through increased funding.

“We have shortened that wait time from people waiting up to six months in some areas across the province; streamlining, co-ordinating, standardizing, utilizing our resources efficiently, there’s virtually no wait,” she said.