'Extremely shorthanded:' P.E.I. lacks psychiatrists for ER care

Prince Edward Island doesn't have adequate psychiatric care, the chief of mental health and addictions told the province's health and wellness committee Tuesday.

Some patients not seeing psychiatrists when needed, mental health expert tells legislature committee

Dr. Heather Keizer, the chief of mental health and addictions, listens during the presentation to the province's health and wellness committee. (CBC)

Prince Edward Island doesn't have adequate psychiatric care, the chief of mental health and addictions told the province's health and wellness committee Tuesday. 

Dr. Heather Keizer's statement came after recent news that only half the positions for psychiatrists are currently filled.

Keizer told the committee Tuesday there are only one-third the number of psychiatrists that should be available to work on-call in emergency rooms.

Instead of having 15 psychiatrists, there are fewer than five available to help patients who need that care. 

Short handed

"Currently, we are in a trough," said Keizer. "We are very low in psychiatrists on Prince Edward Island. Perhaps the lowest we've seen in a very long time." 

Keizer said that's placing "extraordinarily onerous" requirements on the doctors who do this work. 

"I was on call yesterday and we had 10 patients in the emergency room, all of whom were complex," she said. "It wouldn't be uncommon for me to do on call and see between 15 and 20 patients." 

Keizer said the shortage could be leading to situations where a person who might have otherwise seen a psychiatrist isn't.

"We are extremely shorthanded and that job cannot be done by nurse practitioners nor can it be done by psychologists." 

This could include someone who turns up at an emergency room with plans to take their own life.

Opposition Health Critic James Aylward said something has to be done before something bad happens. 

"We need to be proactive now to ensure that we are protecting Islanders, particularly individuals that might be expressing self harm or suicidal thoughts," he said. "It's far too serious an issue just to sweep it down the road."

Recruitment and retention

 Aylward said the province needs to look at how medical professionals are being recruited and retained as well.

"But at the end of the day, if you have an individual presenting with suicidal thoughts … I think the medical profession, at the very least, needs to take those individuals in," said Aylward, adding they are then in a safe location until a psychiatrist can see them. 

Dr. Heather Keizer presented the latest on mental health care to the standing committee on health care. (CBC)

Keizer said Health PEI is actively recruiting to fill those positions as well as positions for psychologists. 

The committee heard dozen of interviews have taken place, there have been site visits, and efforts to recruit new graduates right out of medical school.

A psychiatrist from England the province said would be here in August is held up awaiting a visa.

"We're working very hard and we've spent a lot of time developing a comprehensive plan that will service all Islanders," Keizer told the committee. 

With files from Kerry Campbell