Veil of secrecy lifted out from mental health

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Kennedy’s outspoken comments blow lid off Hillsborough Hospital

Hillsborough Hospital

It’s been an astonishing several weeks concerning mental health issues on Prince Edward Island. Even Premier Robert Ghiz admits the issue has been swept under the rug for far too long. The premier said in his year-end interview with The Guardian that awareness of mental illness is a priority for the government and the veil must continue to be lifted on this disease. Health Minister Doug Currie, who is firmly board with the premier, is busy dealing with an explosive week that has really exposed any veils of secrecy.

The powder key was ignited last week when Provincial Court Judge Nancy Orr felt she had no choice but to sentence a homeless man to jail to protect him from staying out in the bitter cold after he was refused a spot at the Hillsborough Hospital. Then came the critical comments from Margaret Kennedy, director of mental health and addictions with Health P.E.I. about the Hillsborough Hospital, the province's in-patient psychiatric facility. While not all the problems originate there, the facility was cited as a major cause.

The hospital is not getting the job done because it’s an antiquated building and doesn’t meet the required standards of care. Hillsborough Hospital’s 69 beds are filled every day, as is the acute psychiatric Unit 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Many patients needing help end up in the QEH’s emergency department, sometimes waiting as long as 10 days for a bed to open up.

Kennedy said that very few people are discharged from the five units at the Hillsborough Hospital and that needs to change. Many people at Hillsborough don’t have psychiatric conditions but cannot be discharged because they have no place to go. There is an obvious gap in residential and other treatment services for people with mental health, developmental, homeless and behavioral issues.

People staying in the Hillsborough Hospital or Unit 9, who don't have psychiatric conditions, are obviously not having their needs met. Policies must change to make it possible for people to get discharged and open up room for people who should be there.

It was revealed the province only allocates four to five per cent of its health budget towards mental health and addictions when the Mental Health Commission of Canada recommends seven to nine per cent of total health-care expenditure be spent on mental health care alone. Everyone is calling for a strategy and more resources but a strategy doesn’t happen overnight and dollars must be found to provide additional resources.

Then Friday, Currie publicly agreed the Hillsborough Hospital should be replaced and largely supported Ms. Kennedy’s harsh assessments. But Minister Currie noted that Ms. Kennedy is at a director’s level, and not involved in higher-level policy discussions. He suggested her concerns are already being reviewed and that a hospital replacement has been looked at for the past six months. Maybe it’s time to include Ms. Kennedy in these kinds of discussions.

Currie agrees more needs to be done to make the process more efficient and help people access the support they need. That observation was contained in a long awaited report on mental health and drug addiction issues presented to government last fall. Minister Currie followed that up by appointing Dr. Rhonda Matters to come up with a long-term strategy to improve mental health and addictions services. Dr. Matters, in her capacity as the newly created chief mental health and addictions officer, has been working since the first of November and in light of recent developments, her terms of reference have widened as well.

Opposition health critic James Aylward noted that tragedy sometimes results when people don’t get help in Unit 9 or the Hillsborough Hospital. But suicide is a word few people want to talk about publicly.

Organizations: Hillsborough Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Mental Health Commission of Canada

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Hillsborough

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Recent comments

  • ex-patient
    January 13, 2014 - 03:28

    5% of the health care budget is allowed for mental health and addictions combined..... when we are told that we have a high rate of abuse here, that does not make much of a dent in the billions spent. Well I wonder what triggers that abuse...could possibly be a number of things. Perhaps if you look at the issues at hand one might find the answers. Words from a front line worker are possible the best or the most honest, albeit probably out of frustration at this point but nonetheless honest and that is what counts. I do not believe that we need a brand new mult-million dollar facility to fix the problem ... maybe some fresh paint and a comforting place to wind down and a positive attitude and some knowledgeable drs and workers who genuinely care about their patients and are not only collecting paychecks, once again our money as well as we are the people paying their wages. What you need to do is hire some trained roofers to cut some skylights in each and every room where people reside would be a step in the right direction as a temporary Costs minimal, support local, compared to a brand new state of there art, pay the architect etc. type thing. People need to take a more logical and basic approach to a problem not just throw money at a nice shiny new facility with the same nice shiny people, perhaps there mental health is suffering too along with the patients due to the poor living conditions also. I would say partly true- but remember they get to go home after each shift and forget about the place and dread going back to work as well. I suggest that if that is the case then don't go back and let someone new have your position with your pay, benefits etc... There is no doubt that that this is not a terribly fun place to be, but before throwing your hands up in there air and agreeing we need a brand new structure to house these people one has to access the problem. I also do not believe that we as citizens should have to pay for a lengthy recommendation from some firm in Ont/ Upper or one in some other part of the continent. Perhaps the gov't should widen their scopes on the solution and look for a place like PEI that has or had the same issues we are having that is functioning at a much higher degree of healthiness'. I am sure there has been such a place, there always was and always will be ..what has been done has been done before I can assure you that. If they are going to waste their /our money they should perhaps look at the healthiest countries in the world that most closely resemble here and our people and model and study their approach. We may get somewhere, can't get much worse, but I would not be sure if the monies would be in the 5% budget. .might possibly be there if we combine there MLA's wage increase then we may have a start and a step towards the rest of the country.. the government is so much striving Then you just do what you do and hope for the best. But I think a breakdown of how the money is spent should be the first thing to look at, and then go from there, and if it is dr. well then do a thorough lengthy interview and possibly even send their resume out for a consultation study to clarify the facts and to be able to make the right decision and hire true drs not the ones who are in it for the money. When they get here they probably realize that there is not enough stimulation to distract themselves from their own problems and decide to leave to greater places chasing themselves all the while. Blaming this or that. We tend to chase doctors who take a different approach possibly out of ignorance or maybe other reasons the average citizen is unaware. The government has to remember that not only did we elected them- we put our trust in them to make the decisions for us also. Remember we elected you : not the other way around. Perhaps, smarter wiser, decisions should be made... Maybe everyone's intentions are good and that is definitely where it starts and then where it goes from there is where it goes but I guess it is clearly not working because all you hear about are the same things being complained over and over again. Anyway, quick thoughts from a a survivor of the system.