London

More psychiatric beds coming to LHSC but doctor says staffing is a big issue

Ten new psychiatric beds will open later in March, but one doctor says without proper staffing the backlog of patients won't be relieved.

10 more psychiatric beds will open later in March, psychiatrists were told last week

The entrance to Victoria Hospital at the London Health Sciences Centre. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

The London Health Sciences Centre will open 10 new psychiatric beds in early March to reduce wait times for mental health care in the region, CBC News has learned. 

But the beds won't alleviate the pressure on the mental health system because it doesn't come with any new doctors or other healthcare workers, psychiatrists say. 

"It's been rushed through. Not a lot of thought seems to have gone into this," said one LHSC psychiatrist, whose name CBC News has agreed to withhold because he fears reprisals at work. 

"I feel like we don't get to know the patients as well to get to know their situation. We're rushing from patient to patient, and it ends up leading to longer stays in hospital for them. If we were able to devote more time to each patient, they'd get out faster."

A spokesperson for the London Health Sciences Centre refused to confirm that the new beds were opening, or when.  

"The hospital is still finalizing the details of the beds and we're not prepared to talk about it at this moment," Mandy Gelinas said. 

Psychiatrists were told about the opening day for the new beds in a meeting on Wednesday. 

The province announced 24 new mental health beds in October, with the promise of relieving pressure on the whole system, but a timeline for opening was not given. CBC News was not able to determine whether the 10 set to open are part of this earlier announcement.  

Still, adding beds without adding staff to deal with the patients will only create new problems, the psychiatrist who spoke to CBC News said. 

"We're supposed to be dealing with six patients in a half day. Instead, I routinely see nine patients, and more if people are on holidays," he said. 

On paper, the LHSC is staffed for 71 psychiatric beds, he said, but there are already 28 extra beds plus emergency room spots available to patients.

Gelinas says there are 44 psychiatrists and 50 psychiatry residents currently working at LHSC. Gelinas did not specify how many are assigned to adult inpatient beds. 

'Difficult to recruit psychiatrists'

The hospital's mental health care has such a bad reputation that it has trouble recruiting psychiatrists, the psychiatrist said. 

"They've been trying to find people and they can't find people. The environment is often very difficult, and that makes it difficult to recruit. We've got a reputation," he said. "Certainly we've had problems with resident recruitment because they do a lot of the emergency room work, and it has a reputation of being a bad experience." 

The hospital also needs more social workers who can help with discharging patients and calling families, and more occupational therapists to work with patients, he said. 

The situation has gotten so bad that some of his patients who should be in hospital refuse to come, the psychiatrist said. 

"From the patient's perspective, they end up waiting in the emergency room for a week, the annex for another week, and they have a really negative experience, and they get to the (psychiatric) unit and they're expecting a much better experience and they don't get that," he said. 

The 10 new beds are two elevator rides and a long walk away from the current unit — something that will also cut down on the amount of time doctors are able to spend with patients, he said. 

Corrections

  • CBC News initially reported that 12 beds would open Monday. The date has since been pushed back, according to psychiatrists, and the number of beds reduced.
    Feb 25, 2018 11:39 AM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

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