A shortage of psychiatrists in Waterloo Region is having a negative impact on the availability of mental health services in the region according to the chief of psychiatry at Grand River Hospital.

Dr. John Heintzman works as a child psychiatrist at the hospital and says that, until this past year, it was just him and another psychiatrist working in the department. 

That was enough to support patients at the hospital, he said, "but there's a lot of youth who we would like to work with prior to a crisis occurring or prior to an emergency."

Heintzman said that, because of a heavy workload, he has been limited in his ability to work with young people before they go into crisis and end up in the hospital's emergency room.

"To some degree, it leaves you feeling like you're doing your job backwards," he said. "Really, if you were able to totally design the system as you wanted to, you would put the primary amount of your work up front, with the belief that that would do more to avoid potential problems down the road."

Recruiting top priority for hospital

There is no easy solution to the problem, but Heintzman said attracting more psychiatrists to the region would help. 

"The hospital has made recruiting a top priority," Heintzman said. "I think if you take all of the activities I do as an administrator, probably recruiting outweighs every other single activity."

His efforts paid off this summer, when the hospital was able to recruit two new child psychiatrists.

"It's allowed me to step off the inpatient unit and begin to do more collaborative care in the community," he said, but that doesn't mean the region's woes are over.

I think if you take all of the activities I do as an administrator, probably recruiting outweighs every other single activity. - Dr. John Heintzman, Grand River Hospital

‚ÄčHeintzman sais that, according to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, there should be 91 full-time psychiatrists in Waterloo and Wellington regions. In comparison, he said he has only been able to find 71 registered psychiatrists, and he does not think all of those are practicing.

Statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington Dufferin indicate that there are more than 900 people in the two regions who are waiting to be seen by a psychiatrist. 

Heintzman said local hospitals are working with the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network to attract psychiatrists to the region, but that solving this shortage will take time.