Kennedy’s outspoken comments blow lid off 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.