No mental health beds planned for new children's hospital in Saskatoon
'We know we lag so far behind on this front. We know we're leaving children behind,' says Opposition NDP
When the new Jim Pattison Children's Hospital opens in Saskatoon next year, it will not have in-patient beds for children or teens suffering from mental health problems.
Recruiting plans for the new hospital do not mention child psychiatrists or psychologists.
Wait lists for patients who wish to see Saskatoon child psychiatrists are now two years long.
Children and teens who are admitted to hospital will continue to be sent to a 10-bed unit at the Dubé Centre for Mental Health.
"It's a massive oversight and a missed opportunity," said NDP social services critic Trent Wotherspoon.
'Literally dying while waiting'
In his annual report this week, Saskatchewan Children's Advocate Corey O'Soup said children wait months, even years for psychiatric and psychological services.
"Our children and youth are literally dying while waiting for service," O'Soup wrote.
He said young people in Saskatchewan's northern and remote communities have a suicide rate approximately double that of the Canadian population, and finding solutions "need not be complicated."
"The lengthy wait times for psychiatric and psychological services must be rectified. Waiting several months and, at times, years for these services is simply unacceptable," he wrote.
Difficulty recruiting psychiatrists
Saskatchewan currently has 15 child psychiatrists. Manitoba has 32.
Health Minister Jim Reiter said Saskatoon is short of pediatric psychiatrists, and the Saskatchewan Health Authority is finding it difficult to recruit more.
"A lot of areas have problems recruiting child psychiatrists," he said. "Mental health is more front of mind right now than it has been in the past."
Reiter said he wants to follow "best practices" in addressing Saskatoon's long emergency wait times for children and teens suffering from mental health problems.
"In every instance, the patient doesn't have to see a psychiatrist," he said. "There are other medical professionals who can help."
Mental health beds often full
Dr. Tamara Hinz — who works with children and youth mental health services at Royal University Hospital and is one of nine child psychiatrists in Saskatoon — agreed, saying the best use of health dollars occurs when psychiatrists work in teams alongside nurses and social workers.
"We don't do that very efficiently right now," she said. "Not every child I see can access a counsellor or a therapist."
Hinz said it's hard for her and the families she meets to watch the new children's hospital being built, knowing mental health services for children will not be part of it.
"I feel sad about it," she said, noting the health authority's recruitment efforts must include physicians who specialize in mental health.
"We're a pretty busy unit and we typically run pretty close to full, or full," she said.
$4M for mental health pilot project
O'Soup praised the province for looking at the way Alberta started bringing mental health professionals into schools more than a decade ago.
Saskatchewan's government has now set aside more than $4 million to test the concept here.
But the Opposition NDP warned last year's budget cuts have already led to bigger school classes and fewer support workers, with some mental health programs being reduced or cut entirely.
"The additional support of mental health workers is critical," said Wotherspoon. "In giving hope to young people who may be in despair and darkness, it can save lives.
"We know we lag so far behind on this front. We know we're leaving children behind."