Nfld. & Labrador

Families scramble for services after Labrador-Grenfell Health loses lone pediatric psychiatrist

Families in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region in need of a pediatric psychiatrist are wondering where to turn after the health authority lost its only one. 

Labrador-Grenfell Health is asking patients and families to reach out to mental health and addictions care

Labrador-Grenfell Health does not have a pediatric psychiatrist. (Rebecca Martel/CBC )

Families in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region in need of a pediatric psychiatrist are wondering where to turn after the health authority lost its only one.

Holly Williams, a parent of a child who relied on the service, is now struggling to access similar mental health services in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.  

"If children need a pediatric cardiologist I think the community would be in uproar that this service is no longer being provided in Labrador so what's the difference in terms of a pediatric psychiatrist?" she told CBC's Labrador Morning.

Williams said she was notified by the receptionist that the doctor was no longer available and was pointed to a family doctor. Although Williams does have a family physician, she noted, many people living in Labrador do not. 

She said she was given no more information about what to do next. 

"We obviously need some recruitment and retention of specialized practices," said Williams. 

"It is very alarming … and scary to think that this is put to the back burner, I guess."

Health authority looking for solutions

In a statement Labrador-Grenfell Health said it was recently informed that its provider of pediatric psychiatry, who had been serving the region since 2015, will no longer be available. 

"Psychiatry is an important part of the stepped-care approach to mental health services at Labrador-Grenfell Health. We recognize that this disruption will impact families in our region and have been working with the other regional health authorities to find sustainable solutions to providing improved access to pediatric psychiatry care," the statement read. 

Labrador-Grenfell said it is encouraging patients and families to reach out to the mental health and addictions care teams during the transition period. 

CBC News has asked Labrador-Grenfell Health to provide how long people have been without a psychiatrist as well as what it means for people in the part of the health region that's in Newfoundland but have not received a response.

CBC News also requested an interview but Labrador-Grenfell Health did not make anyone available. 

Virtual health care a way forward 

Provincial Health Minister John Haggie said it has been difficult to attract health-care workers to rural parts of the province.

"Best we can do is provide good management and working solutions," said Haggie. 

Haggie said one of things the department is trying to do is enhance virtual care whenever possible. 

"Obviously there are situations and types of care where that isn't entirely practical," he said.

"The challenge then is to try and see how we can bring the services to Labrador or facilitate people leaving Labrador." 

Haggie said Labrador has been something of a pioneer in virtual care with its use of Telehealth, a video-conferencing technology that was established about 30 years ago. 

He said he has asked the federal government for more money to enhance virtual services.

"We have had great success over the course of the pandemic using virtual [technology].… Certainly we have wanted to broaden that."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Leslie Amminson