Mental health investment extends hours at Regina General Hospital

Through an investment from the government, two new full-time staff have been hired to deal with mental health crisis at the Regina General Hospital. File / Global News

A $375,000 investment from the Saskatchewan government is allowing the Regina General Hospital’s emergency department to provide longer hours of mental crisis support.

The money is from the 2019-20 provincial budget which also included spending on mental health and addictions.

Two full-time staff members have been hired at the hospital and their shifts began in June.

“There will be coverage there now from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, and that will cover the majority of patients coming in with mental health crisis,” said Glen Perchie, director of emergency for the Regina area.

The additional shifts were added to peak times and are an increase from the previous hours of 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The nurse’s roles include immediate attention and follow-through of services when patients leave the hospital.

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“The nurses will be handling things like anxiety, eating disorders, suicide ideation, and drug addiction problems,” Perchie said. “These nurses can wrap services around these patients and coordinate care both within the inpatient areas and the community. It’s a better way to bring service to the patient.”

Regina’s Pasqua Hospital doesn’t have psychiatric nurses on hand, though their nurses are trained to deal with mental health crisis. Patients requiring admission can be transferred to the general hospital if the situation calls for it.

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The increase in mental health service time is seen as advantageous towards the ongoing opioid crisis in the city.

“The [nurses] know the services that are out in the community and are able to better access and get the patient to where they need to be treated, so if that includes addiction, then that’s what they would [help them with],” said Angie Tangjerd, director of in-patient mental health in Regina.

Tangjerd said the increase to mental health service in Regina is needed.

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“Over the last few years, we have identified that with the increase in numbers that it’s really important to have that enhanced support in emergency. We’re very grateful that we got this funding. It was so welcome.”

Though more staff means better care for patients, not everyone is of the belief Regina’s problems are solved.

David Nelson, senior consultant at Canadian Mental Health Association Saskatchewan Division (CHMASD), said the service beforehand was extremely lacking for years.

“You’ve got to look at what’s causing that and some of the history on that,” Nelson said. “The number of psychiatric beds dropped to a third of what it was in 1996, so there’s a lot of pressure on the beds that are in [psychiactric care units]. They have not kept up hiring to match the population increase in this province.”

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“You really want to see them get down to the root of the problem,” he said.

“The root of the problem is that in mental health, for a long, long time, every budget they would do away with half a dozen beds saying they weren’t necessary, but they are necessary.”

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Nelson said there’s been a misconception that the beds aren’t being used, but the reality is that there aren’t enough staff to tend to them, giving the illusion they aren’t needed.

“They need to put resources into both [beds and nurses].”

Rebecca Rackow, director of advocacy, research and public policy development at CMHASD, agreed with Nelson in that this move is only a step towards what the status quo should be, not anything exceeding the standard.

“This is long overdue. As population increases and as the increase and influx of patients come in, there should have always been a responsible response to that with added staff and added resources.

“Instead that has been neglected for a very long time. It’s good to see that they are putting more into that but it needs to be brought back up to where it needs to be.”

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Rackow hopes the added service will lower the numbers of those needing frequent care, adding: “that revolving door of people going in and out can be hopefully be reduced if people can have more care.”

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