PEI

Teenage victim of sexual assault waiting 6 months – and counting – for counselling, P.E.I. Legislature hears

A six-month wait – and counting – for counselling services for a teenaged victim of sexual assault was held up by P.E.I.’s Official Opposition Wednesday as an example of a mental health care system failing those who need it most.

P.E.I. Opposition says long wait indicative of 'broken' mental health system

Rachael Crowder, executive director with the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, told CBC via email that the wait-list at the centre 'is at an all-time high with wait times at almost a year in both Charlottetown and Summerside.' (Stanislaw Mikulski/stock.adobe)

WARNING: This story mentions suicide and sexual assault. Help line information appears at the bottom. 

A six-month wait — and counting — for counselling services for a teenaged victim of sexual assault was held up by P.E.I.'s Official Opposition Wednesday as an example of a mental health care system failing those who need it most.

"Our system is broken," said Green MLA Michele Beaton during question period. "Immediate help is needed, but Islanders are waiting at every single stage of the process and the attempts for help go unheard."

Beaton told MLAs she had been given permission to tell the story of a high school student who reached out to say she had been sexually assaulted in October.

In November, the student said she had gone to the emergency room following a suicide attempt and was admitted briefly at Hillsborough Hospital, P.E.I.'s psychiatric hospital.

"She was released after two sessions with a psychiatrist," Beaton told the house.

Green Party MLA Michele Beaton says immediate help is needed to fix P.E.I.'s mental health-care system. (P.E.I. Legislature)

"A follow-up from that psychiatrist promised a referral to another physician specializing in mental health, and she is still waiting. She is surviving, but she's still waiting. 

"And I quote from this brave young girl: 'Why are there so many channels to go through just for somebody to talk to someone?'"

"I agree that there are, by times, too many layers to go through," responded Health Minister Ernie Hudson, explaining that's why government has created a position for a patient navigator, so people "will know who to reach out to and to help them navigate that system."

Counselling wait times up to a year

Rachael Crowder, executive director with the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre, told CBC via email that the wait-list at the centre "is at an all-time high with wait times at almost a year in both Charlottetown and Summerside."

Crowder said the centre tries to prioritize cases where the assault took place within the last three months, and is usually able to connect those victims with a therapist "within a couple of weeks."

However she said with the current backlog of cases, "all our therapists have full caseloads which makes adding recently assaulted survivors a challenge."

In its new budget, which has been tabled but not yet passed, the Dennis King government included funding to allow PEIRSAC to add three more positions for counsellors, to increase its complement to nine. There are currently five on staff with one vacant position.

But Beaton questioned why government didn't provide the funding back in December, when officials with PEIRSAC explained their situation to the province's standing committee on health and social development. 

She said no victim of sexual assault should be forced to wait indefinitely to start receiving the support they need to try to start piecing their life back together.

"Their life is already on hold," Beaton said in an interview after question period. 

"The assault happened and they're living in that moment. And until they're able to connect with somebody to take them out of that situation, their life is on hold."

'Not acceptable'

In an interview, Hudson said asking a victim of sexual assault to wait a year for counselling is "definitely not" acceptable.

"A wait time of any amount is not acceptable. And that's what the goal needs to be," Hudson said. "If there are more resources that need to be put forward for additional counsellors, it needs to be done."

This week, emergency room physician Dr. Trevor Jain told CBC that up to 25 per cent of emergency room visits at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital are from mental health patients who come to the ER because they have nowhere else to go. He said ER doctors often lack the expertise to deal with mental health problems.

On Wednesday, Minister Hudson pointed to changes coming to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to create a new area to function as a mental health emergency room, together with a short-stay admissions area.

The capital portion of that project is expected to go to tender next week, a government official said, with construction to start in summer and conclude in a year.

Hudson also said the deployment of mobile mental health units last year "is having an impact with regard to the number of Islanders that do present themselves at emergency departments, so that certainly is a positive."

But Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker accused the King government of underfunding mental health services to the tune of $16 million per year, based on a recommendation from the Mental Health Commission of Canada that nine per cent of health-care spending be directed toward mental health.

"How can you tell this house that you're doing everything you can to help Islanders in crisis when you're grossly underspending on mental health," Bevan-Baker asked the premier, adding that the "need for mental health supports far exceeds the services that are currently available." 

King responded there are "many, many areas" in which government needs to spend more money — including mental health.

"We do need to spend more money and I think that we have demonstrated in here that we're fully prepared and willing to do that."


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