Province issues 1-year progress update for mental health and addictions plan

One year after Newfoundland and Labrador began implementing a new mental health and addictions plan, the province says there's been a 35 per cent decrease in the number of people waiting for treatment.

Minister John Haggie says inmate health care will be under his department within one year

Health Minister John Haggie says an immediate priority is to get mental and physical health care for inmates in correctional facilities under the umbrella of his department. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

One year after Newfoundland and Labrador began implementing a new mental health and addictions plan, the province says there's been a 35 per cent decrease in the number of people waiting for treatment.

The Department of Health said the average wait to see a mental health professional in St. John's has decreased significantly — from 21 months to 24 days.

Those are just some of the numbers in an update to Towards Recovery: The Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador released Wednesday,

On the Burin Peninusla, where a cluster of suicides had advocates calling for more mental health services, wait times for care have been reduced from 180 days to 0. 

Premier Dwight Ball's Liberal government has pledged to implement all 54 recommendations by the all-party committee for mental health by March of 2022. 

In the progress report, the province said that 18 short-term recommendations have been completed, as well as 2 medium-term ones.

The plan includes replacing the aging Waterford Hospital with a new 94-bed facility. (CBC)

Using the Memphis model of mobile crisis intervention, 161 visits to homes were made in April compared to 84 in April of 2017.

There are also two new permanent psychiatrists in Labrador since last year. 

The Department of Health said approximately $197.3 million will be invested in mental health and addictions care in 2018 and 2019. 

One of the cornerstones of the province's mental health care plan is the replacement of the Waterford Hospital in St. John's with a new 94-bed facility, which the province has said will be built as an attachment on the existing Health Sciences Centre campus.

It plans to partner with the private sector for that facility. 

Health department taking over inmate care within a year

On Wednesday, in the wake of the deaths of four inmates inside correctional facilities across the province, Health Minister John Haggie said taking over inmate health care is an "immediate priority."

Part of that plan means continuing care for an inmate in counselling or seeing a doctor — before, during and after incarceration. 

Currently, health care inside correctional facilities is handled by the justice department, but Haggie said lots of academic work shows that's not ideal for the mental or physical health of inmates. 

"We've actually moved the manager of health from justice and public safety into our department as a first step," he said. 

"We've also been teeing up the regional health authorities to make sure that they have the capacity and the alignment of programming to be able to move in and run, take over, manage and implement physical and mental health care within the corrections facility."

Colleen Hanrahan says she's pleased that the province is changing who handles health care for inmates. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Colleen Hanrahan, whose research helped inform these changes, said this is a welcome change.

"The point is how do you administer a health care program when you know nothing about health care, when your job is security within a prison," she said.

Haggie said he expects that the Department of Health will have full control over health care inside Newfoundland and Labrador prisons within one year.