Sask. minister says future of mental health assessment unit to be revealed budget day

The mental health assessment unit at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital was planned to be temporary, but advocates want to see it be a permanent fixture. File / Global News

The mental health assessment unit in Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital (RUH) emergency room was planned to be a temporary facility when it opened in April 2018.

Its status after the provincial budget is delivered is questionable, but a group of advocates who came to the legislative building on Tuesday said they have been told it will be closing.

They’re calling on the province to at least keep the unit open and expand mental health supports.

“My son actually just shared with me recently that at first, it was awful in the ER, and it was chaotic and hell, but once they got him moved into the temporary mental health assessment unit it was good,” Kathy Genest said.

“To me, that speaks volumes because we need to continue treating our people with mental health issues like they need to be. They need to be that is conducive to them getting well.”

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READ MORE: Emergency mental-health assessment unit opens at Royal University Hospital

That call for alternatives to conventional emergency rooms was echoed by Kathy Evans, whose daughter has schizoaffective disorder, epilepsy and is bipolar.

“To have to wait in that main waiting room with a psychiatric psychotic person that’s throwing her shoes and brochures and being awkward is shaming for her and shaming for me. It’s awful,” Evans said.

“People have no idea if you’ve never dealt with mental illness.”

The temporary seven private bed unit was funded through a sizeable donation from Saskatoon’s Dubé family, noted business owners and philanthropists.

The plan was to close the facility once a new adult mental health emergency unit opens at RUH as part of the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital build.

The Opposition NDP’s mental health critic Danielle Chartier also called on the unit to remain open, alongside the new facility at the children’s hospital, saying it could help staffing issues at the assessment unit.

READ MORE: Province helps launch mental health support teams in 8 Sask. communities

Health Minister Jim Reiter said the advocates will see a “huge step forward” on budget day.

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“The plan all along was to open it as a temporary unit until the new emergency unit in the new hospital was open, but it’s just come to light over the last number of months – intuitively it just seems wrong to close the facility when there’s so much need for mental health, so that’s why we chose to review it,” Reiter said.

Reiter also signalled mental health is a budget priority in health. The current goal is to have seven per cent of the health budget go to mental health, the national average. Currently, 5.3 per cent goes to mental health in Saskatchewan.

Prior to the 2018 budget, Reiter said the goal was to reach seven per cent when finances allow.

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