The provincial government says it will boost the number of addiction treatment beds available in Alberta in response to a review of mental health services.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman made the pledge as the review's findings were revealed this morning in Calgary.

The Valuing Mental Health report contains 32 recommendations aimed at supporting mental health by strengthening services for Albertans with mental illness and addictions.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the province plans to act on all of the recommendations, however six of them have been singled out for priority action at an estimated cost of $4.5 million.

"It's going to take time — 32 recommendations are not a small feat," she said.

The six priority actions:

  • Eight new medical detox beds for adults will be created in Lethbridge, and 20 beds will be converted in Red Deer.
  • Access to addiction treatment in Calgary will be expanded with the addition of three new detox beds for children and youth.
  • An opiate addiction action plan will be developed in co-operation with First Nations communities.
  • Technology-based solutions will be made a priority with the development of a child and youth mental health website this spring.
  • Develop a performance-monitoring framework to track results.
  • Establish an Addiction and Mental Health Implementation team to work with community and health partners to c-oordinate implementation of the report.

Hoffman said implementation of the remaining 26 recommendations will have to happen over time given the province's tight fiscal situation.

"Some of these have very significant monetary requirements attached to them," she said. "Obviously I wish oil was at $100 a barrel and not hovering around $30."

'We can and must do better'

The review was led by Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann​ and submitted to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman just before Christmas.

"The current mental health system is not meeting the needs of an increasing number of Albertans. We can and must do better. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Albertans have heard this," he said in a release.

"Successful implementation of the mental health review will require a higher level of leadership from Alberta Health, and the new AHS board, than that provided by previous governments. Today's six priority recommendations are an excellent start."

Sheldon Kennedy, whose child advocacy centre works with victims of child abuse, praised the report for singling out what he views as the biggest problem with Alberta's system of mental health care service — a lack of co-ordination among partner agencies. 

"If we look at the available systems out there, I think there's plenty," he said. "But the reality is they don't work together and they don't talk to each other, and we're not efficient and we're not effective."

Suicide rates on the rise 

Late last year, CBC News reported that suicide rates in Alberta had gone up dramatically in the wake of mounting job losses across the province.

There were 252 suicides in Alberta from January to June 2014. During the same period in 2015 there were 327 — a 30 per cent increase. 

Swann's committee heard from about 400 stakeholders, received more than 100 written submissions and presentations and reviewed about 2,900 online questionnaires.

The review focused on increasing access to addiction and mental health services, addressing geographic challenges, and "ensuring services are inclusive of, and culturally appropriate for, Alberta's diverse population," the province says on its website. 

Alberta's mounting fentanyl crisis was also included in the review. 

Read the full report here.