An advocate for eating disorder services says Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon hasn’t heeded her calls to ramp up support for the province’s eating disorder prevention and recovery program.
Wait times are extending up to two years, too long for time-sensitive and potentially life-threatening eating disorders, Elaine Stevenson said at a Manitoba Liberal press conference Thursday afternoon.
Stevenson co-founded the Alyssa Stevenson Eating Disorder Memorial Trust in her daughter’s honour.
“Minister Gordon, I am begging and pleading for you to do something to help these families and to help the people that are suffering,” Stevenson said, fighting off tears.
“They have a right to treatment.”
Stevenson said she’s written Minister Gordon two letters in the past year, one in February and the latest in September, sounding the alarm over the longest wait times she’s seen in her 30 years as an advocate. However, Stevenson said she hasn’t seen any action to resolve the emergency.
Global News reached out to Minister Gordon for comment and is waiting on a response.
Wait times for the province’s eating disorder recovery and prevention program at the Women’s Health Clinic are two years, a spokesperson with the clinic confirmed. As of Thursday, 164 people were waiting for admission into the program that has a capacity of 110 clients, who need between 12 to 18 months to complete it, they said.
“Due to the added stress of the pandemic, we have seen our waitlist increase 32% since March 2020,” a spokesperson with the Women’s Health Clinic told Global News in an email.
“COVID-19 has compounded factors that increase the severity and frequency of eating disorder behaviours such as increased coping mechanisms and isolation,” they said.
Women’s Health Clinic director of medical programs Blandine Tona told Global News they first informed the Manitoba government of the concerning two-year waitlist in February. Wait times are up from the pre-pandemic levels of six to 12 months.
“We don’t want people seeking services to get to beyond the point of no return,” Tona said.
“The time to act (is) now. Providing the additional funding will help to save lives especially in the midst of the pandemic,” she said. “The government has time to make good on its promises and help us deliver critical treatment to folks who suffer (from) eating disorders.”
In Stevenson’s September letter, she asked the province to urgently meet with program staff to address funding and review the waiting list system along with considering the possibility of a toll-free crisis phone line and treatment centre.
“You talk often, minister, about the right time, the right place and the right care — and I agree with you. That’s a wonderful sentiment, and I believe passionately in those words. But right now, they are just words. They mean absolutely nothing for those on the eating disorder waiting list at the Women’s Health Clinic,” Stevenson said at the press conference, where she spoke next to Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont and health critic, Dr. Jon Gerrard.
“Ordinarily, when you have an epidemic … the government should be putting extra resources in that area to make sure that people who have eating disorders are well looked after,” Gerrard said.
“I raised this twice in the Legislature in March and April of this year; that’s about six months ago now, and we’ve had no action. This is just not acceptable.”
Eating disorders largely affect women and girls, with between 0.5 and four per cent of Canadian women suffering from anorexia and between one and four per cent from bulimia, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.