Nova Scotia

Aberdeen Hospital mental health unit supporters rally

Demonstrators marched in front the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow Monday to protest the pending closure of the facility's mental health unit, even as some other local advocates say a shutdown is not necessarily a bad idea.

Unit will shut down next Monday as hospital deals with staff shortage

About 50 protesters, including Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, attended the noon-time rally to save the Aberdeen Hospital's mental health unit. (CBC)

Demonstrators marched in front the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow Monday to protest the pending closure of the facility's mental health unit, even as some other local advocates say a shutdown is not necessarily a bad idea.

The short-stay inpatient unit treats patients dealing with a short-term mental health crisis. Due to a staff shortage, those services will no longer be provided to patients at the Aberdeen as of next Monday.

Patients will instead be sent to Truro for further treatment.

About 50 protesters attended the noon-time rally to save the unit.

Dr. Theresa Vienneau, the clinical director of mental health and addictions at the Aberdeen Hospital, said the unit lacks four full-time RN and LPN positions and is trying to hire for those positions as fast as possible.

Until then, Vienneau says psychiatric help will be available and staff will help patients find a bed at a different hospital if necessary. 

"We will find a bed, if a patient requires admission they will be admitted as close as possible to their home community, but we will find a bed if they require admission," she said.  

The closure is upsetting some of those who have been treated at Aberdeen, or who have family members who have stayed at the mental health unit.

Irene Limburg says she uses the facility about 10 times a year and was at Monday's rally. She says the unit is part of her crisis plan for those times when she has suicidal feelings or wants to self harm.

Irene Limburg says she is a patient at the unit about ten times a year. (CBC)

"I'm going to be devastated. I'm already devastated right now and very stressed because this is my safe place to go. I know the staff here, I know the ER here," she said.

Through tears, Limburg said the unit is necessary.

"If it closes, I'll have to go to Truro, and I know none of the staff there, and I know none of the doctors there, and it's just very, very stressing," she said.

Heidi Stewart was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia 10 years ago during her first stay at the unit. She told CBC's Information Morning the coming closure will be devastating for mental health patients like herself in Pictou County.

"I credit the nurses and the psychiatrists for their amazing work, their consistency and their compassion," she said. "Without the supports of community, my family, friends, ministers, I believe that I would not have recovered as fast as I did."

Kim MacGrath-Jackson is staying in the unit right now. She doesn't know where she will be transferred in one week. (CBC)

Instead of cutting the unit, Stewart says she'd like to see it developed more and offer the types of services offered in Halifax, including occupational therapy.

But others say the unit is failing patients, particularly when their in-hospital treatment is over. Elaine Garland and Cecilia McRae argue the Aberdeen unit can't even provide the basics.

The two women both have family members who have struggled with the system and are co-facilitators of the Pictou County Mental Illness Family Support Group.

'Out the door and dropped'

"The unit itself was not serving their needs the way it should have," McRae said. "It needed to have more in the way of discharge planning, providing therapeutic interactions with people, education, programs."

Garland says there is not enough emphasis placed on fashioning discharge plans for patients.

"They aren't asked, 'Are you going to be able to take care of yourself? Are you going to have a plan for your meds? Do you have a home to go to? Do you have support out there that we can talk to?,'" she said.

"They're just out the door and dropped."

On Monday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said on Twitter it was their intention to re-open the unit once appropriate staffing is secured.

Limburg doesn't believe the closure will be temporary.

"If they shut it down, they're going to keep it shut down," she said.

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