Mental health care lacking in Saskatchewan's north: provincial auditor

The Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan says there are serious problems with the way mental health and addictions care is delivered in the north.

Long wait times, high demand, inefficient records listed as issues in 2018 report

Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson says mental health and addictions is a huge issue in Saskatchewan's north and has recommended a comprehensive assessment of how services are delivered. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan says there are serious problems with the way mental health and addictions care is delivered in the north.

The 2018 report focuses on the former Prince Albert Parkland Health Region and lists a number of issues that are leading to poorer mental health outcomes for northern residents.

Long wait times are a concern, with 80 per cent of children and youth with mild and moderate mental health issues waiting more than 20 days to get help. The report notes that waiting for help can lead to worsening conditions and "significant adverse effects."

Carla Beck, NDP deputy leader and critic for early learning and child care, was concerned to hear that 80 per cent of children with mild and moderate mental health issues waited more than 20 days to receive care. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Carla Beck, NDP deputy leader and critic for early learning and child care, says the current situation is "not adequate."

"Young people are literally dying on the wait list to see mental health supports," said Beck. "We are not doing enough."

Demand is outpacing capacity, the report states, with inpatient beds full and detox clients being turned away.

"The demand for services is increasing and they're not keeping up with the demand on a number of different fronts," Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson said. "That's why we're calling for that comprehensive reassessment. What services are you providing? Do they make sense? Are you providing them at the right location?"

Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson says health officials were receptive to the suggestions put forth in the 2018 report regarding mental health and addictions care in the north. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Another issue is the high number of clients missing appointments — a whopping 39 per cent. The former health region couldn't show that it was following up with those clients.

An inefficient records system isn't helping, either. With a manual, rather than electronic system, there are often multiple files for the same client and no easy way to share files between health care professionals.

Moving to an electronic system could not only help with efficiencies, Ferguson suggested it could be one way to serve northern clients who have a hard time travelling to Prince Albert, by offering mental health services online.

"It's not necessarily replacing one-on-one counselling, it's just another alternative. You want as many tools in your toolkit as you can have when it comes to mental health and addiction."

You want as many tools in your toolkit as you can have when it comes to mental health and addiction.- Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson

She conceded that access to Internet could be a problem for some northern residents and said if the health authority were to move in this direction, that would be an issue they would need to address.

Ferguson said they're calling for a comprehensive reassessment of how services are delivered and that despite the criticisms in the report, it was well received by health officials.

"Frankly, they know that this is an area that they need to work on. Some of the findings that we identified, they knew about."

With files from Kendall Latimer