Protesters demand action on access to P.E.I. mental-health care
'We just want to make sure that the government has a plan in place'
Dozens of people gathered outside the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday evening demanding the province take action on mental health and addiction services.
Organizers say they were protesting because of two big changes during the COVID-19 pandemic: the closure of the psychiatric unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and the recent nurse shortages at the psychiatric urgent care centre in Charlottetown.
The QEH psychiatric unit reopened on Nov. 1, but only six of the 20 beds.
The protesters want government to make mental health supports a top priority. Ellen Taylor, who helped organize the protest, said a lot of people are struggling with mental health issues right now, and they feel the pandemic is making it even harder to get the services they need.
"We just want to make sure that the government has a plan in place if something happens again," she said.
"I just want the government to have mental health on the forefront while they are sitting this time. I hope that they, you know, think it is as important as we think it is."
Taylor said during COVID-19 may have been the first time some Islanders may have reached out for help and it may not have been there.
"There are people who have lost their jobs or the financial stress and emotional stress on families. I think it is only going to get worse if our COVID numbers go up," she said.
As a homeless person you're not taken seriously. You are kind of swept through the system.-Matthew Dunn
Taylor hopes MLAs consider meeting with those protesting to address concerns.
The Green Party presented a motion in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday night, stating the province needs to do better with mental health and addiction services and make it a top priority if there's a second wave of COVID-19.
Matthew Dunn of Charlottetown spoke at the protest about his struggle with homelessness. He said he started struggling with his mental health and alcoholism when he was 20 — he is 30 now.
Dunn said he has had several visits to the psychiatric unit.
"What I've learned from being homeless and not being homeless, the level of care that you get is almost night and day," he said.
I got there to see the doctor to tell me the emergency beds at detox were full.- Eleana Blackette
Dunn said staff at the unit seemed to question the validity of his situation.
"You're looked down upon, it feels like, whenever you go in with a mental health crisis," he said. "As a homeless person you're not taken seriously. You are kind of swept through the system."
Dunn said things only got worse when COVID-19 hit with the conversion of the QEH psychiatric unit during the pandemic.
Eleana Blackette worked as a mental health nurse and struggles with addictions and mental health herself. She was one of the protesters Tuesday night.
Blackette said she was in treatment in Nova Scotia at the start of COVID-19 and spent three months there. She said she was promised by provincial officials she would have a psychiatrist within two weeks of returning to the Island.
"That did not happen. I have been having to drink every day since I arrived home on June 11th," she said. "I sit on the street panhandling."
Blackette went to the emergency room on Monday night, she said.
"I got there to see the doctor to tell me the emergency beds at detox were full," she said.
"I'm telling you I am knocking on death's door."
Courtney Crosby helped organize the protest along with Taylor.
"I think there was a great turnout," she said. "I think a lot of people felt heard."
Twenty-seven MLAs passed the protest on their way to the legislature with some stopping to listen.
"I'm hopeful that the MLAs and the minister of health have heard some of the gaps we are facing," said Crosby. "It's Islanders that can give feedback on how the services are working because we are the ones that are using them first hand."
Crosby said she hopes changes will be made to improve access to mental health and addictions services after hearing some of these stories.
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With files from Brian Higgins