Last Sunday, Tara Myers’ sister was finally ready to reach out for help with her drug addiction, but after waiting over eight hours in the emergency room, finally gave up and left.
Myers took her sister to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital emergency department in Charlottetown after being told on Friday there were no available beds for women at the detox facility in Mount Herbert.
When they called on Sunday, no one answered.
So they went to the ER and waited.
After six hours, Myers went to speak with a man working the triage desk to find out how much longer it would be.
“He said he was going to go talk to the team leader and get back to me, and he never got back to me,” she said.
Another hour later, she checked again. Still no response.
Finally, exhausted and frustrated while suffering withdrawal symptoms with no end in sight, Myers’ sister finally decided to leave.
“I don’t blame her. Eight-and-a-half hours is a long time to try to sit and wait… if you’re coming off a drug it can be pure torture to sit there. Noises, lights, all that is just difficult.”
Myers’ sister is not alone. Many Islanders who try to access detox within a medical facility may find themselves with an even longer wait.
Pam Trainor, executive director of acute care and mental health and addictions for Health P.E.I., said Tuesday wait times for inpatient withdrawal management, or detox, has improved.
But patients seeking detox in the Mount Herbert addictions facility can still be forced to wait as long as 10 days.
It all depends on how sick the addicted person is when they reach out for help.
“If someone is seeking treatment and is determined to be very ill, then they would actually make some adjustments to their admissions and take that person in probably the next day,” Trainor said.
Patients are screened over the phone to determine whether they need immediate care.
“Not everyone needs inpatient withdrawal, some people do very well with outpatient withdrawal.”
Outpatient withdrawal means the addicted Islander detoxes on their own, in their own home, with the help of counsellors.
“That is available in five different locations across the province. They have a short wait time. It’s anything from one to three days,” Trainor said.
People are also told they can contact a counsellor or a self-help group such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, or to go to the emergency department if they are very ill.
If they end up in the ER, they are assessed and triaged, as any other patient would be according to the severity of their illness.
“We only have so many beds and we have to manage them and we have to triage them based on their needs for those inpatient beds, but, as I mentioned, there’s also outpatient detox which can be accessed very quickly,” Trainor said.
She stressed there have been ‘improvements and investments’ made to services as part of the province’s addictions action plan, announced last November with the release of the mental health and addictions review.
Myers said she knows the province has been working on the growing problem of addictions in P.E.I., but was frustrated at what she perceived as health workers who did not display any care about her sister’s attempt to access treatment.
She would like to see at least a separate waiting area in the hospital for addicted Islanders waiting for treatment.
“Even if you can keep them there overnight until you can get in touch with a family doctor or psychiatrist,” Myers said.
“If somebody is asking for help, you should be able to give it to them.”