Critical gaps exist in mental health services in P.E.I. for vulnerable children, youth

Teresa Wright and Doug Gallant
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P.E.I.'s chief mental health officer Dr. Rhonda Matters, left, provided an update on her long-awaited mental health stragegy Wednesday to the standing committee on health. Also pictured is Dr. Therese Harper.

A long-awaited report from the province’s chief mental health and addictions officer will be released in the coming months, but some MLAs were unimpressed with the update they received Wednesday from Dr. Rhonda Matters.

Matters appeared before the Standing Committee on Health and Wellness Wednesday to provide an overview of her work in co-ordinating a cross-departmental mental health and addictions strategy.

Her final report will be released sometime this year. It will be a 10-year plan aimed at providing better supports and programs for Islanders in need of mental health services, she said.

“Certainly what we’re focused on is having a whole of government approach to mental health,” Matters told the committee.

A draft of her report has been circulating within government, and work on some of her recommendations has already been completed.

But, she hinted at areas where more needs to be done. She says there are “critical gaps” in services for vulnerable children and youth, especially those in the care of the province. There also continues to be extensive wait times for psychiatric services, notably a current wait of more than three years for children in need of psycho-educational assessments.

Verna Ryan, director of mental health and addictions for Health P.E.I., delivered statistics showing wait times for mental health services have been as high as 75 days for adults and 50 days for youth needing urgent care. For those in the semi-urgent category, wait times were 58 days for adult psychiatry and 98 days for youth in 2014-15.

“We really need to get those assessments and interventions to kids quicker, Matters said.

But when asked for statistics about the success of intervention programs being offered in P.E.I., Matters could only provide anecdotal evidence.

Opposition health critic James Aylward says he was surprised she did not have more tangible information after spending more than a year working on her strategy.

He was also highly critical of a government announcement she took part in back in October 2014 where a 12-bed, in-patient youth treatment facility was promised for Charlottetown.

Ryan told the committee Wednesday that Health P.E.I. could not secure a reasonable location within its budget and could not guarantee psychiatry service, due to the limited number and availability of psychiatrists in P.E.I.

Services were instead expanded for youth in Unit 9 at the QEH.

“I would certainly think any government would ensure the research and background was done before such an important announcement was made,” Aylward said.

“If it’s the situation now that we just don’t have the facility to provide services to our youth, I think the government erred very largely in providing false hope for families that thought this was going to be there for them.”

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker told Matters he was shocked to learn she was unaware of any tangible statistics measuring the outcomes of treatment programs offered by the province.

“If we’re not keeping statistics, we can’t be measuring whether they’re working or not… and therefore there’s no accountability,” Bevan-Baker said.

“I think we’re at the beginning stages of that,” Matters replied.

Her report is expected to be released in the coming months.

Organizations: Standing Committee on Health, Islanders, QEH

Geographic location: P.E.I., Charlottetown

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