Prince Edward Island mental health services stretched

Jim Day
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Margaret Kennedy, director of mental health and addictions with Health P.E.I., says huge gaps exist in residential and financial services for people with mental health issues. Kennedy also feels the Hillsborough Hospital, pictured here behind her, is an antiquated facility. 

Hillsborough Hospital called antiquated, substandard

Hillsborough Hospital, the province's in-patient psychiatric facility, is not getting the job done, says the director of mental health and addictions with Health P.E.I.

"Hillsborough is a very antiquated building and it does not meet the standards of care that are required,'' says Margaret Kennedy.

However, the broader problem is not so much the hospital, as the entire mental health care system in the province, stresses Kennedy.

Hillsborough Hospital has 69 beds with five units: one for patients with acute psychiatric conditions, one for seniors with psychiatric conditions, one for people with developmental delays and psychiatric conditions, one rehab unit for people who have stabilized but need more attention before being discharged, and another unit for neurotrauma patients.

Every day, the hospital is filled to capacity. So too is the acute psychiatric unit (Unit 9) at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

So where do people who should be in Hillsborough Hospital or Unit 9 go when those places have no available beds?

Often, people end up staying in the emergency department. Kennedy has heard of people staying in the emergency department at the QEH for up to 10 days with an acute psychiatric condition.

"They could be waiting for a spot at Hillsborough Hospital or Unit 9 and there are blockages at both places,'' she says.

Others may be in the community not accessing treatment at all.

"They may have given up,'' says Kennedy.

The capacity problem at Hillsborough Hospital made the news earlier this week when Judge Nancy Orr felt she had no choice but to sentence a man to jail to protect him from staying out in the bitter cold after he was refused a spot at the Hillsborough Hospital.

The judge said the situation resulted from major miscommunication between government agencies. A bed is now available for the man at the hospital, but correctional services have filed an incident report.

Kennedy could not speak about this specific case but acknowledged the problem of a constantly packed pyschiatric facility is serious.

"There is never an empty bed,'' she says.

"It is not once in awhile. It is a pattern.''

Kennedy says very few people are discharged from most of the units at the Hillsborough Hospital.

"There is never an empty bed. It is not once in awhile. It is a pattern.'' Margaret Kennedy, director of mental health and addictions with Health P.E.I.

That needs to change, she says.

"So people are going there and they are stuck there because there is nowhere else for them to go for the appropriate care that they need,'' she says.

Kennedy says a gap exists in residential services and other treatment services in the province for people with mental health issues, developmental issues, homeless issues and behavioral issues.

Many people staying at Hillsborough, she notes, do not have psychiatric conditions but cannot be discharged because they do not have a place to go.

She says planning is needed for people staying in the Hillsborough Hospital and Unit 9 at the QEH who don't have psychiatric conditions and are not having their needs met.

"I think there needs to be an examination of policies in other government departments on housing and financial (services) to make it possible for people to get discharged,'' says Kennedy.

This would get people into more appropriate settings while opening up room at Unit 9 and Hillsborough Hospital for people who should be there, she adds.

Kennedy estimates the province only allocates four to five per cent of its health budget towards mental health and addictions. The Mental Health Commission of Canada recommends seven to nine per cent of total health-care expenditure be spent on mental health care alone.

"We're well below that,'' she says.

The provincial government recently announced plans to spend $1.2 million in new initiatives to deal with prescription drug addiction in the province and has appointed a specialist to come up with a long-term strategy to improve mental health and addictions services.

Reid Burke, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in P.E.I., says a significant investment in resources is needed.

Support to help people manage their mental health illnesses is lacking across the board in P.E.I., notably in housing, employment and education, he says.

"Huge numbers of people are struggling with poor mental health,'' says Burke.

"We need a strategy to deal with that.''

Organizations: Hillsborough Hospital, Health P.E.I., Kennedy.Hillsborough Hospital Mental Health Commission of Canada Canadian Mental Health Association

Geographic location: Hillsborough, Prince Edward Island

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Recent comments

  • Chloe
    January 08, 2014 - 17:39

    I have been in Unit 3 in Hillsborough Hospital and in Unit 9 in the QEH. As a patient I can tell you that the experience of the two places are very, very different. Being in Hillsborough was uncomfortable and even scary at times. There was a distinct lack of privacy. The communal woman's washroom did not have a door but rather a cheap plastic sheet that did not close all the way. The bathtub, stalls and sinks were in easy view of the men that walk and stood in the hall. The general atmosphere for a psychiatric ward is incredibly somber and dark with no natural light and no activities available. Dealing with mental illness requires compassion certainly but it also requires much more than a near Victorian setting. There have been times, dangerous times, when I should have been under the care of of physicians in hospital but I have not gone out of fear of being placed back in Hillsborough because there are no beds in Unit 9. I consider myself lucky. It remains a travesty!! I would now like to work to advocate for change.

  • johnthames
    January 08, 2014 - 16:18

    Way to go Ms. Kennedy, someone at the Dept. of Health actually knows how to tell the truth. Shame Minister Currie, you really are not exceptional, just another lacking politician grasping for straws and ignoring the real needs of islanders. Some advice? Get out of the way and let professionals like Ms. Kennedy do her job!!!

    • Are you serious
      January 09, 2014 - 06:14

      "..let professionals like Ms. Kennedy do her job!!!" I'm sorry but this crisis with mental health and addictions happened on her watch. When people went to the media because they couldn't get any help, she defended the system. If you listened to her, you would have thought everything was wonderful and that it was all the clients faults. So, I wouldn't say that she knows how to tell the truth. I think that she is trying to save face by speaking out now. A little too late, though.

  • cadenjak
    January 08, 2014 - 13:11

    I am not employed with the health system but I do have a knowledge and perspective that other readers may not have. There are two main components of in- patient care : the building and the care. The latter is the more important of the two. While staff, patients, and their families would all agree that the building needs updates, it is important to note that the care given at Hillsborough Hospital by caring and skilled staff is exceptional. In fact, staff are known to go above and beyond expectations to ensure patients receive the respect they deserve and the care they need. Despite the newspaper article, families who have a loved one at this facility should realize that their loved one is not at risk. While staff at Hillsborough Hospital, and elsewhere in the mental health system, do their best as they care for clients with complex disorders, this is a time when the system is undergoing incredible pressures and change. All agree, demand exceeds capacity in all areas of mental health care. The reasons for this are complicated. It is not helpful to place blame. Energy and emphasis needs to be placed on how to best organize services to minimize any backlog and coordinate and make maximum use of resources. There are effective and efficient programs at both the hospital and community levels. Hundreds of Islanders use these programs annually. Not all clients recover for a variety of factors including a client's choice not to take responsibility for their own mental health or their choice not to follow a prescribed treatment plan. Can services and programs improve ? Of course, but only with a united front that includes policy makers getting input from psychiatrists, and front line workers as well as clients and families. Brainstorming sessions, including all parties could bring new insights and possible solutions. There is more good news. More people than ever before are asking for help with their mental health concerns and Mental Health Care is finally being given the priority that it deserves. Let's hope this issue is approached with an openness that seeks both a positive outlook and outcome.

  • patty cakes
    January 08, 2014 - 12:15

    Many years ago there was a decision made to close beds in Hillsboro Hospital, hoping to put chronic mental health patients into the community. The bed were cuts by 75 %, now they say there is not enough beds, who in god's name makes these decisions. One government want;s beds closed to save money and another want's more beds. The needs of the patients is the last thing looked at until there is an incident, then who is to blame. Addictions and mental heath should not be considered a budget issue but what needs best serves the people seeking these services. Basic humanity needs to step forward, the true essence of health and caring for people.

  • flat earth society
    January 08, 2014 - 08:15

    The Ghiz government can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new horse barn at the CDP, but some of the most vulnerable people in our society suffer in neglect.

    • Hughjordan
      January 08, 2014 - 13:03

      I couldn't agree more.....

  • candrayo
    January 08, 2014 - 07:09

    Insanity was created by Inhumanity…I didn't choose my Mental Illness…someone else chose it for me….asking the government to fix the problem they created seems kind of pointless to me…but I suppose one has to look like one is actually doing something about it to appease the masses…you know..the ones that are not yet aware how sick THEY are too! But what do I know…? The abuse of food alone in our society and the mental illness that is creating in our children of today and of old, is JUST the tip of the iceberg where mental illness is concerned. Hell we love poisoning our Island water/land don't we Farmers/Ghiz……? BIG PROBLEMS being ignored……and everyone is guilty of it…not to mention what electronics and prescription medication are also doing to us as a society as well. Mental health is a very serious problem…I often wonder why so many are not very concerned for their future and their children's future. But hey…what do I know?