New program aims to free up mental health hospital beds for kids, youth

Hospitals in Waterloo region and Wellington County are using a new emergency department diversion team to connect children and youth with the most appropriate mental health care.

Pilot program involves diverting people away from the ER, increasing flow through inpatient unit

The new pilot program is aimed at reducing pressures in local emergency rooms, which have seen an increase in the number of children and youth seeking urgent mental health care. (CBC)

Hospitals in Waterloo region and Wellington County are using a new emergency department diversion team to connect children and youth with the appropriate mental health care. 

The diversion team is part of a five-month pilot program launched in November with $600,000 in funding from the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network. 

"While we see it as a success when someone comes to an emergency department, not every youth requires an inpatient stay," said Patricia Patterson, program director of child and adolescent mental health services with Grand River Hospital.

When a child or youth arrives at the hospital in a mental health crisis, a member of the diversion team will meet with them and their family and perform an assessment.

Connecting with community supports

If it is determined that the child or youth does not require hospitalization, the diversion team will connect the individual and their family with community supports. 

"Maybe they need some skill building in some areas and some immediate and urgent supports the same day or next day," Patterson said.

Whatever it is, she said the diversion team will make sure the services are in place before the patient leaves the emergency room and returns home. 

Diverting people away from hospital emergency departments is one way to reduce pressure on the region's one inpatient mental health program for children and youth. 

More kids, youth seeking help

The 13 bed Child and Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry — CAIP — unit at Grand River Hospital is always full, according to Jennifer Kayter, manager of community and population health with the Waterloo Wellington LHIN.

"What we've noticed is there has been an increase in children and youth in our community accessing acute mental health care. That is where we've seen the pressure," Kayter said. 

"It's not necessarily that the unit is doing anything incorrectly. In fact, the program is wonderful. It's just that there are so many children and youth that require this kind of program."

She said another way the LHIN is helping to reduce pressure on the unit is by giving patients a place to go when they are finished with treatment, but not ready to return home.

Four transitional beds

Part of the $600,000 has gone toward the creation of transitional beds in the community, where former CAIP patients can stay for up to six weeks. 

Two beds at Lutherwood's residential mental health centre in Waterloo have been operational since Nov. 1, and the organization plans to add two more beds in December. 

Heather Fedy, director of mental health services, said Lutherwood's goal is to help the youth successfully transition home and prevent a return to hospital.

"In order to do that, sometimes people just need additional supports that are a little more intensive than what you might get at home, a little less intensive than what you would get in the hospital," she said. 

As of Dec. 6, three young people had used the transitional beds, with one youth having having made a successful transition home. 

Jennifer Kayter said the diversion team had connected 15 children and youth with community supports.