Manitoba

Advocate urges Manitoba to take action as eating disorder treatment waitlist now up to 2 years long

Wait lists for eating disorder treatment in Manitoba have ballooned as cases have spiked during the pandemic, and advocates are pushing the province to urgently intervene.

Liberals join Elaine Stevenson in calling on province to provide emergency funding

Elaine Stevenson speaks at the Manitoba Legislature Thursday. She is urging the provincial government to provide emergency funding boosts to eating disorder programs, which she says have seen wait times balloon to up to two years. (Global pool)

Wait lists for eating disorder treatment in Manitoba have ballooned as cases have spiked during the pandemic, and advocates are pushing the province to urgently intervene.

Appearing alongside members of the Manitoba Liberal Party on Thursday, Elaine Stevenson wept while pleading for Health Minister Audrey Gordon to address wait times, which she says have doubled to between 18 months and two years.

She says early intervention is critical because the conditions of people with the disorders can deteriorate quickly.

"And we are asking these people to wait 18 months to two years for treatment?" Stevenson asked at the legislature.

"Minister Gordon, I am begging and pleading for you to do something to help these families and to help the people that are suffering."

Stevenson's daughter died of complications related to an eating disorder and she co-founded the Alyssa Stevenson Memorial Trust in her name

In three decades of advocating for better treatment, Stevenson says she has never seen wait lists as long as they are now. 

Like other provinces, Manitoba has seen the number of reported eating disorders cases jump during the pandemic, particularly among young people.

Stevenson wrote Heather Stefanson in February urging the then-health minister to provide emergency funding for Women's Health Clinic and boost supports for the provincial eating disorder prevention and recovery program.

Stevenson received a written response from someone with the health ministry, but the issue persisted. She wrote Gordon earlier this month outlining many of the same concerns.

Manitoba Liberals health critic and MLA Dr. Jon Gerrard (River Heights) said eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health issue.

River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard says the province has known for months of the rising demands on eating disorder services but has yet to respond with adequate funding. (Global pool)

He said the province has known for at least six months about the rise in cases amid the pandemic but failed to meet that rise with additional funding.

"This is really critical," said Gerrard. "I raised this twice in the legislature, in March and April of this year … and yet we've had no action. This is just not acceptable."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont (St. Boniface) said the province has money earmarked for mental health services received in the form of a $400-million transfer from the federal government that could be used to expand eating disorder services. 

"The money is there, the only thing that is lacking is the political will," he said. 

CBC News requested comment from the province but did not receive a response by Thursday night.

Stevenson wants an immediate meeting between provincial officials, staff from Women's Health Clinic, and the provincial eating disorder prevention and recovery program to review their funding needs.

"They are fabulous people running the programs there, but you can't expect them to do more with so less," she said.

Her letter to Gordon also said the province should come up with short- and long-term planning for the provincial program, including the possibility of a new residential treatment centre and crisis phone line.

She also asks the province undertake a review of its wait-list system, which Stevenson suggests was failing well before the pandemic.

"Please help me and these wonderful people here today to save people's lives," Stevenson said. "They have a right to care and with that kind of care and early intervention, they can recover."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Journalist

Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

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