PEI·CBC Investigates

Mobile mental health units ready to roll this fall, P.E.I. government says

P.E.I.’s Department of Health says the province’s mobile mental health crisis response service should be ready for a full launch by early fall, but the nurses union questions whether enough staff will be available to meet that timeline.

Nurses' union raises doubts, saying it hasn’t gotten key memo from the province

One of three unmarked vehicles purchased in 2020 to be used for P.E.I.'s mobile mental health crisis units. Those units have yet to be deployed. (P.E.I. Government)

P.E.I.'s Department of Health says the province's mobile mental health crisis response service should be ready for a full launch by early fall.

This is the first time the province has specified a timeline for the start of the service since Health PEI said back in February that a 24/7 crisis response phone line would be operational by the end of March 2021.

That still hasn't happened, and in the meantime the province has shifted responsibility for the new program from Health PEI to Medavie Health Services, the private company responsible for ambulance service on P.E.I.

"The Department of Health and Wellness is engaged with Health PEI and Medavie Health Services on at least a weekly basis to provide oversight to the planning, development, and implementation of an integrated team-based approach that will improve access to mental health care," the province told CBC News in a written statement. 

The statement said three field teams — one for each of the province's counties, and each team comprised of at least two members — "will take shape over the coming weeks to enable [the] full provincewide launch of the service by early fall."

The plan is for dispatchers to triage incoming calls on the response line, and when necessary, dispatch teams which could include registered nurses, social workers, paramedics and in some cases police to provide mental health support in people's homes.

The department said multiple memorandums of understanding are required with each group responsible for the workers who will staff the teams.

Barbara Brookins, president of the Prince Edward Island Nurses' Union, says her union has yet to be presented with a draft MOU regarding P.E.I.'s mobile mental health crisis service. (Submitted by Barbara Brookins)

But the P.E.I. Nurses' Union says it has not yet been provided with a draft copy of an MOU and questions whether the province will be able to find the staff necessary for a fall launch.

"Considering they have only one of the 12 positions filled at this time, it seems a little bit unrealistic," said union president Barbara Brookins. 

"There is an orientation period to come into play, and really there is still a lot of … variables in the model that they're proposing."

Brookins said it's not clear to her how risks will be assessed and how teams will determine whether to include police officers on particular calls.

The original model for the service put forward by Health PEI would have included police as part of every response, but in March, Health Minister Ernie Hudson said police would assist on a site visit only if deemed necessary after an incoming call was triaged.

Changes led to more delays, union says

After a CBC News article in March detailed how management of mobile mental health was being transferred from Health PEI to Medavie, Premier Dennis King responded to questions in the legislature by saying the move would speed up the process of getting the units operating.

But three months later, the nurses' union says the change has had the opposite effect, introducing further delays in the rollout.

"It's kind of ironic because Health PEI, I would assume, were given parameters of how they were told to get this program up and running, and yet now that it's over to Medavie, now the whole service delivery is changing yet again," said Brookins.

"I just kind of question whether Health PEI — if they had this leeway at the very first — if they could have had this up and running."

Brookins said Health PEI had initiated a "soft launch" of the service with a team that was in place in February, which included crisis intervention training for police along with nurses and social workers who had been hired at that point, "and then it was shortly after that that everything came tumbling down."

Minutes show Health PEI role ending

A spokesperson for Health PEI wasn't able to confirm a soft launch of the service had taken place, but added that if it hadn't, the service had been close to that point before Health PEI's role in managing the service ended.

In the minutes of the April 1 meeting of the board of Health PEI — made public only in June — there is mention of a directive from Hudson that "Health PEI is no longer be responsible [sic] for the delivery of the Mobile Mental Health Unit."

That same week in the legislature, the health minister had been denying there had been a change making Medavie responsible for the service — even though the premier already seemed to have confirmed that.

Health Minister Ernie Hudson issued a directive to Health PEI, noted in the minutes from the agency's April 1 board meeting, saying the agency would no longer be responsible for delivery of the province's mobile mental health service. (Province of P.E.I.)

When asked about the issue during a recent funding announcement, Hudson refused to comment.

CBC News was told no one from the Department of Health could be made available for an interview.

'They had bought the vans'

"This was a service that was supposed to be launched last year," said Opposition health critic Michele Beaton. "They were ready to go. They had bought the vans."

Opposition health critic Michele Beaton said government still hasn't explained why it moved management of mobile mental health away from Health PEI. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

Beaton said there are important questions that remain unanswered, including why the province made this change.

"Is it because government has now decided they don't have the capability of launching the service? Will the model be the same as it was previously described by Health PEI?"

She had two questions in particular for the King government: "Who's creating your policies, and how much has been spent so far?"

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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