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One week after a New Brunswick teenager died by suicide after a failed attempt to get help, the health minister held a briefing on mental health services and announced a review into crisis care.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard called a news conference on Wednesday to assure New Brunswickers she is committed to improving mental health services in the province. She also expressed her condolences to the family of Lexi Daken.
Sixteen-year-old Lexi died by suicide last week. Her mother took to Facebook the next day in an outcry, saying the health-care system failed her daughter.
Lexi was taken to the Doctor Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital on Feb. 18, after a guidance councellor noticed mental health issues. It took eight hours for Lexi to be assessed by a mental health professional. According to her family, after those eight hours, a nurse told Lexi that calling a psychiatrist would take another two hours. The family said Lexi felt like a burden after she was asked something along the lines of, “Are you really going to make us call them?”
Lexi went home that night, receiving no immediate help. Less than a week later, she died.
“Earlier today I had a conversation with Mr. Daken and we will be meeting with the family very soon,” Shephard said in the Wednesday briefing.
Last week, Shephard released a statement following Lexi’s death, promising change in the mental health system.
“I mean it,” she said on Wednesday.
“I want to convey that I have not waited to take action on calling to improve services for mental health.”
Shephard said she spoke to Horizon Health on Tuesday and has asked it to report back to her by the end of the month on how to address crisis care in emergency rooms.
A similar conversation will take place with Vitalite Health Network as well, she said.
“Lexi’s parents have done something very brave; they have shared their anguish publicly and we cannot let that be in vain.”
The province will ask Norman Bossé, New Brunswick’s Child and Youth Advocate, to conduct a review into mental health crisis care, but the scope of the review has not yet been defined.
She emphasized that this initial process will be a review, not an inquiry, as Green Party Leader David Coon has called for.
Shephard said she cannot expect what she will receive from Horizon Health or Vitalite by the end of the month.
“I’ve just asked them to make sure it was meaningful and that we get it rapidly,” Shephard said.
Shephard added that her directive to Horizon Health, calling for suggestions on improvement, was determined.
“Do I disagree that psychologists should be on call? Nope, I don’t,” she said, adding the province needs to figure out how to get there.
She said in the Wednesday briefing that she doesn’t want to assume or preempt what the review will find, but that it is important for her to “be a critical thinker” to ensure things go in the right direction.
Shephard also said the five-year action plan for health-care in the province that she introduced last month provides a good foundation for moving forward.
A part of that plan was establishing walk-in clinics for mental health services across the province.
“As we progress, I believe there will be meaningful investment,” Shephard said on the mental health budget.
In the meantime, Shephard said emergency rooms are still open to those in a mental health crisis, and several virtual avenues have been launched.
She said she is taking this seriously and will implement meaningful change as fast as she can.
“I know that Lexi’s family are not the only ones who have left a hospital feeling frustrated, hopeless. It is heartbreaking and we’re going to everything we can to improve that.”
She said she is not willing to make “change for the sake of change.”
Shephard said staff with be diligent in the short-term to provide the best care they can.