Opposition parties call for more answers about Unit 9, psychiatric care clinic closures
Both opposition parties pressed health minister about the decision to empty beds in Unit 9
Concerns about sufficient access to mental health and addiction services dominated the first session of the fall sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature on Thursday.
Both opposition parties pressed Minister of Health and Wellness James Aylward about the decision to empty beds in Unit 9 psychiatric ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to clear the way for potential COVID-19 cases. But, the rush of COVID-19 hospitalizations has not come.
While the unit remained closed to psychiatric patients, seniors suffering from dementia, who were waiting for a spot in a nursing home, had been moved in. They filled 17 of the 20 beds in the unit.
Liberal MLA Robert Henderson said he's been receiving calls from a number of constituents who are struggling to access mental health support.
"You basically have shut down mental health services using COVID-19 as the excuse. But, I might say, as of today you haven't had one person even go to a hospital yet for COVID," Henderson said.
"It's been bad planning and a cold-hearted decision to shut those whole services down and left many Islanders in a bad situation."
Henderson asked the minister what the government's backup plan was to deal with issues surrounding access to mental health services and what his role was in the decision to empty the beds in Unit 9.
Aylward said the decision to use Unit 9 as a space for potential COVID-19 hospitalizations was made by professional staff in consultation with officials in mental health and addictions.
"What we had to do was prepare for the worst outcome and that was going to be a major outbreak of COVID-19 here on P.E.I. early on," Aylward said.
"This was put in place to protect Islanders and I'm extremely proud of the work these people have done."
Aylward said throughout the pandemic any Islander who needed to be admitted into a mental health facility, as indicated by a physician, was admitted.
Unit 9 reopened to psychiatric patients earlier this month and Aylward said there are currently six mental health acute care beds available there. He said there are also beds available at the Hillsborough Hospital.
Psychiatric clinic closure
Aylward also faced questions about the recent closure of one of the province's two psychiatric urgent care clinics (PUCC).
The clinic located at the Hillsborough Hospital in Charlottetown closed temporarily beginning Nov. 6 due to a nursing shortage.
Green MLA Trish Altass pressed Aylward for more details about what the province plans to do to make sure mental health services are properly staffed. She also had questions about whether current staffing levels can support the programs that are currently available, and those in the works for the future — specifically the proposed plans to replace the Hillsborough Hospital with a new mental health campus.
"This tells me that the staffing levels are dangerously low in mental health and addictions and if we can't even keep the limited number of services that we provide open now, I'm not sure how a shiny new mental health campus will be helpful if we can't have the trained staff that we need to operate it," Altass said.
Aylward said there were "staffing deployment issues" at the clinic. He said during the temporary closure the services offered at the clinic were moved to the emergency department at the QEH and those services are still available there.
Altass said she's concerned about what the last-minute move to the QEH will mean for the quality of care patients are receiving compared to the care they would get at the psychiatric urgent care clinics.
The health minister said the province has been able to reduce wait times for accessing psychiatric assessments, even in the middle of the pandemic.
He said for an adult it is up to 14 days.
For a child or youth, it's still 28 days maximum, but according to the minister wait times can be lower than that.
"I'm extremely proud, extremely proud of the tremendous work that our health-care workers are doing here to support Islanders," Aylward said.