Limited beds making Nova Scotians travel for psychiatric care

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotians who need inpatient mental health treatment sometimes need to travel far from home'
Nova Scotians who need inpatient mental health treatment sometimes need to travel far from home
WATCH: People who need inpatient mental health treatments in Nova Scotia sometimes have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get a bed. Alexa MacLean reports. – Nov 5, 2019

Nova Scotians must sometimes travel across the province to receive treatment at the seven hospitals that have inpatient psychiatric facilities.

When people are assessed as requiring inpatient mental health care, they must be assigned to a bed in a facility that can provide psychiatric treatment. From Yarmouth to Sydney, there are 175 mental health beds available for inpatient treatment.

According to a Nova Scotia Healthy Authority report, one in five Nova Scotians live with mental health problems.

READ MORE: There are stark disparities in access to mental health services across Canada

Sometimes there aren’t enough mental health beds in one particular community to treat people where they’re from, but the NSHA says that doesn’t mean patients won’t be admitted to a hospital in another part of the province.

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“We will hit periods of capacity. We have plans for when we’re at capacity, that’s not the every day,” said Mary Pyche, program lead with mental health and addictions in the province.

“We may have hit capacity in one zone of the province and another zone may still have some bed openings, so we would look at the closest-to-home bed available in the province.”

Pyche says any patient who has been admitted still receives care while they are waiting to be assigned to a mental health bed.

She says the benefits of a provincial assignment system is that more options are available to get people started on treatment, even if it does require travel.

“If they’re at capacity say in Yarmouth and we want to start that person’s treatment right away, they could go to a bed in Kentville, for example, rather than waiting in an emergency department,” Pyche said.

There are psychiatric facilities in Sydney, Antigonish, Colchester, Halifax, Bridgewater, Kentville and Yarmouth.

‘Very frustrating’

Mental health advocate Rachael Dent-Flynn feels moving people away from their home and personal support network may create more challenges for those in need of support, both professionally and personally.

“It’s very frustrating,” Dent-Flynn said. “Family members have the ripple effect because they’re doing everything they can.

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“It’s not just affecting the person themselves – it’s affecting families, it’s affecting children, it’s affecting their work.”

“It’s affecting every single aspect of their whole life.”

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Dent-Flynn runs a horse therapy program and says many of her clients have gone through the mental health system.

She says she often hears of challenges her clients have experienced with having to travel out of their home community to access treatment and feels the number of mental health beds across the province needs to be increased.

“Not only are they having to go to rural places like Antigonish or further out, sometimes they’re actually having to leave the province if they’re able to,” she said, “to get the services they need.”

READ MORE: The people waiting for mental health support in Atlantic Canada

Pyche says the main challenge isn’t with the number of beds but with continuing care once someone is ready to be discharged.

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“I believe we have enough beds in the province of Nova Scotia for inpatient mental health care. The difficulty we have is with discharge,” she said.

Pyche says many patients are on wait lists to access housing placements – ranging from community services, to continuing care.

“If we could help patients discharge into a housing situation, or a placement situation, we would have no difficulty moving forward with the admissions that we have,” said Pyche.

“It’s not the front end; that’s the challenge right now. It’s the back end.”

The Nova Scotia Mental Health Crisis Telephone Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis please call , call 902-429-8167 or 1-888-429-8167.

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