Auditor general highlights wait times for mental services as concern

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The $85,000 mental health and addictions review did not go far enough, and more money is needed for mental health services for seniors, children and youth, according to senior provincial health officials.

Auditor General Jane MacAdam

These comments from management at the Department of Health and Health P.E.I. are included in the 2014 Auditor General Report — their responses to concerns raised in a previous special audit.

A 2012 investigation by former Auditor General Colin Younker found a number of serious problems with community mental health services in P.E.I., including excessive wait times and no existing long-term plan.

In response, the department commissioned a review of all mental health and addictions services, which resulted in an $85,000 report completed by the consulting firm MRSB. Two years have passed and long wait times for counselling services, psychological assessments and other mental health services continue to plague P.E.I.’s health system.

“The mental health and addictions review did not go as far as expected,” senior health management wrote in the 2014 Auditor General report, released last week in the legislature.

“It will now be necessary to carry out additional tasks in the next phase of work.”

Health Minister Doug Currie acknowledged Monday this is a strong statement, but one that shows health officials take the issue of increasing need for mental health and addictions services seriously and have been working hard to find new ways to alleviate the many pressures on the system.

“We’ve identified that access is an issue,” Currie said. “We’re looking at how can we continue to find ways, whether it be new resources or more efficiencies in our system, to improve access.”

In the latest auditor general report, senior management in the health department and Health P.E.I. detail actions taken so far to address concerns raised by the AG 2012, including steps still necessary to improve services.

An internal report has been completed on wait times that identifies pressure points where they are and what services are most impacted.

“The mental health and addictions review did not go as far as expected.”Senior health management wrote in the 2014 Auditor General report.

Work is also underway to create electronic data to better monitor wait times. Also, a proper intake policy has been developed to identify priority referrals for those most in need of urgent care.

But the wait times report still needs to be refined, health management says in the AG report.

That means more bureaucratic work, including a shared ‘Mental Health and Addictions operation improvement plan’ to be developed in the last quarter of 2013-14.

But health officials clearly state even these measures will not fix all the problems.

“It is expected that the access targets cannot be met for all services and in all sites,” health management state in the 2014 AG report. “In order to meet these targets, changes to service availability or expansion into tiers of care may be impacted.”

Also, despite the fact Health P.E.I. now has a minimum time frame established for those in most need of urgent care, this could create new problems.

“This will likely create an increasing gap in access for those in less urgent need,” health officials stated.

Health P.E.I. has made requests this year for investment in the seniors’ mental health resource team as well for child and youth mental health services “required to meet increasing demands.”

Currie would not specify how much money was requested, pointing instead to the $1.2 million in new initiatives announced last November to help deal with the increasing need for mental health and addictions services.

He says he is also waiting for a report from Chief Mental Health and Addictions Officer Dr. Rhonda Matters, who is conducting an extensive review of current services and will identify where she believes services and investments could be made.

“These are all issues that we recognize, both from a department standpoint and Health P.E.I., that these are areas where we need to improve access,” Currie said.

Organizations: Department of Health and Health P.E.I., MRSB

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