Saskatchewan

'I'm going downhill': Patients lament after Sask. doctor's death puts free treatment program on hold

Jo Ann Moffatt has been through a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. Now a treatment option she says offered relief unlike anything else is on hold.

'Interim plan' for psychiatric community in place: health authority

Jo Ann Moffat (right) suffers from depression and anxiety as a result of the debilitating pain of Sjogren syndrome. She's no longer able to receive ketamine treatments because the Prince Albert program she was attending is now on hold. (Submitted by Jo Ann Moffatt)

Jo Ann Moffatt has been through a lot of pain, both physical and emotional.

Now a treatment option she says offered relief unlike anything else is on hold.

Moffatt was recently diagnosed with Sjogren Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that leaves her with debilitating muscle and joint pain and chronic fatigue. She is unable to work or complete simple tasks throughout her day and says she developed depression and generalized anxiety disorder as a result.

"I've been hospitalized several times," Moffatt said. "I've lost friends over it because who wants to do something with somebody who's in pain all the time and also depressed?"

Moffatt, 54, lives in Saskatoon. She used to travel every couple of weeks to Prince Albert to receive ketamine intravenously to treat her mental and physical illnesses. 

The drug has been used by medical professionals for several years for treatment-resistant depression.

Moffatt says the treatment was life-changing.

"I would walk out of there brand new," she said. "It was an instant effect."

The future of Prince Albert's ketamine clinic, located in Victoria Hospital, is now on hold indefinitely after the death of Dr. Mohammad Hussain, a well-known Prince Albert psychiatrist. Hussain opened the clinic in 2012 and ran it up until his death from a heart attack last week. 

Because Hussain was the clinic's only supervising physician, there's no one else who can administer the ketamine. Between 60 and 70 patients of the program are now without a treatment option. 

Dr. Mohammad Hussain stands with his lifetime achievement award in 2009. The respected Prince Albert Psychiatrist died Saturday at 79. The ketamine program he ran at Victoria Hospital is now on hold because of his death. (Saskatchewan Health Authority)

The news came as a shock to Moffatt, who's gone about a month without a treatment. She said she can already feel the effects.

"I'm going downhill," she said. "Both pain-wise and mental health."

Carol Larsen, another clinic patient, travelled from Melfort twice a week for treatment. She was a patient of Hussain's for more than eight years. He helped her with her depression. 

"He was like my rock," Larsen said through tears. "[The clinic] has done a real wonder for me. It makes me feel better about myself [and] juggle life a lot better."

Other clinics not an option

The only other clinic in Saskatchewan that offers ketamine treatments is Linden Medical Centre in Saskatoon — the only out-of-hospital service in the province. The treatment costs around $500 per treatment at the Saskatoon clinic, whereas Hussain provided the service free of charge.

I don't have the money to pay $500 a treatment- Jo Ann Moffatt

Both Larsen and Moffatt are on tight budgets. 

"I don't have the money to pay $500 a treatment," Moffatt said.

Matt Hooper is the clinic manager at Linden Medical Centre in Saskatoon. He said Saskatchewan, like every other province, doesn't cover the cost of ketamine.

His clinic has to charge patients because, while the drug is relatively cheap, the costs to staff the clinic and pay the non-hospital designation fee are steep. Hussain, he said, was likely able to waive charges for his patients because his program wasn't a stand-alone service. 

Carol Larsen says Hussain was her 'rock' and that the ketamine treatment program turned her life around. (Submitted by Carol Larsen )

"[Hussain's program] was in a hospital," said Hooper. "He was able to use hospital resources."

Hooper added Hussain never billed for his time spent at his ketamine clinic, which could have also been a reason why he never charged patients. 

'Interim plan' for psychiatry team: Health authority 

Both Larsen and Moffatt said without a ketamine treatment service, they have no other options. Larsen said medication she was prescribed for her depression wasn't nearly as effective.

"It just made me worse," she said. 

In an emailed statement, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) wouldn't say if or when an interim psychiatrist would take over the clinic, but noted it has developed an "interim plan" with the Prince Albert-area psychiatry team to manage patients.

The statement didn't elaborate on what that plan included, but said patients are being directed to their family physicians for additional support.

Neither the SHA nor Ministry of Health said plans were in the works to cover the drug.

"The Saskatchewan Formulary lists a variety of drugs that may be used to treat depression," a statement from the ministry read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ethan Williams

Journalist

Ethan Williams is a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. Get in touch with him: ethan.williams@cbc.ca

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