Federal money for school nurses will help prevent mental illness: Health P.E.I. CEO


Published on May 18, 2017

Health P.E.I. CEO Michael Mayne.

©Guardian file photo

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The CEO of Health P.E.I. is defending government’s decision to allocate $400,000 of new federal mental health funding to education, saying the need for early intervention is key for prevention of mental illness.

Michael Mayne acknowledges the health accord funding was earmarked for mental health services and the money is going to Health P.E.I.’s budget.

But the determination was made that there was a need to invest in mental health supports for students in schools.

“Parents, educators, health care providers and many others have said that the mental well-being of our youth is of critical importance, and that we need expanded and enhanced supports for our youth’s mental well-being,” Mayne said in a statement emailed to The Guardian.

“These resources will be part of the provincial health care system, but will be providing care at the school level. Services will be delivered directly in the schools.”

Mayne was reacting Thursday to statements made by the province’s chief mental health and addictions officer, Dr. Heather Keizer, who publicly criticized government for diverting this money from resources she says would better address a current mental health “crisis” in the P.E.I. health system.

She believes the money would have been better used for a mobile mental health crisis unit or other psychiatric front-line services.

In a public speech delivered last week, Keizer said neither she nor the chief administrative officer of mental health and addictions, Verna Ryan, were consulted on how this money would be allocated.

“The department of health did not assign these monies according to our mental health strategy or the mental health action plan Verna and I have been working so hard on this past year,” she said in her speech.

“No, this month Verna and I were informed that the federal transfer payments earmarked for mental health have already been approved for allocation not to mental health but rather to public health nurses for the department of education.”

Mayne disputed this Thursday saying, “mental health and addictions was actively engaged in discussions to determine how this year’s health accord funding would be invested.”

“The province’s mental health and addictions strategy, released in November 2016, recognizes the need to enhance services for our young people – early intervention is proven to be a critical component to treatment and prevention of mental health issues,” Mayne said in the statement.

The Guardian did have an interview scheduled Thursday with Keizer to follow up on the concerns she raised in her speech, but it was cancelled early in the afternoon.

A communications staffer explained her schedule had changed and directed all future follow up questions to go through communications officers.

Opposition MLA James Aylward raised concern about “government spin” getting in the way of an issue as serious as mental health.

“I find it very troubling that a higher value is being placed on the political health of this government than on a serious public health crisis,” says Aylward.

He also questioned why financial details offered to The Guardian about the costs of a new Hillsborough Hospital complex were not previously released.

Health P.E.I. provided The Guardian with the capital investment for the construction of the new complex, totaling $16.9 million in spending for the next five-years, beginning with $200,000 this year for master planning.

“The first mention of a dollar figure for the Hillsborough Hospital appeared in media reports today. Nothing in the last three capital budgets, presentations to standing committee, this year’s budget estimates, or when the issue was raised many times in question period,” Aylward said Thursday.

“This sounds like desperate spin to try and get government through a polling period. Islanders deserve better.”

A spokeswoman for Health P.E.I. said the money was included within the general line item “health facilities” in the capital budget five-year plan.