Thunder Bay·Audio

Thunder Bay parole service loses contract psychiatrist

The parole service in Thunder Bay has lost its contract psychiatrist, as the doctor has taken a job elsewhere — and corrections officials say it will be difficult to find a replacement.

Local John Howard Society head 'very concerned'

The Correctional Service of Canada says there is a shortage of care providers —including psychiatrists— in the Thunder Bay area. (Shutterstock)

The parole service in Thunder Bay has lost its contract psychiatrist, as the doctor has taken a job elsewhere — and corrections officials say it will be difficult to find a replacement.

The Correctional Service of Canada says there's a shortage of psychiatrists in the Thunder Bay area and it's looking at alternate ways for parolees to get the care they need.

The head of Thunder Bay's John Howard Society says access to mental health services is essential for many people on parole to help break the cycle that can lead people to re-offend. 

"I'm very concerned," said Liisa Leskowski. "We know that if there isn't reintegration supports in place, isn't services in the community, it ... limits an individual's ... chances for a successful reintegration into a life after incarceration,” 

“You add mental health issues in there, you add poverty, you add addictions [and] it becomes a vicious cycle ...  impossible for someone to break."

'Designed to punish'

Leskowski said many people suffering from mental illness end up in the criminal justice system. When they're released from prison, they continue to need treatment.

"They don't come out cured or rehabilitated,” she said. “It's not a health system. The criminal justice system is designed to punish, not treat." 

Leskowski said psychiatrists perform a vital role by prescribing and monitoring medication, as well as therapy, to parolees struggling with mental illness. 

But the Correctional Service of Canada said there is a shortage of care providers — including psychiatrists — in the Thunder Bay area.

In an email to CBC News, Corrections spokesperson Chantal Guérette said case management teams will work with parolees to "obtain alternate care providers who are capable of meeting their mental health and psychiatric needs."

"In some cases, their health requirements could be met by family physicians or nurse practitioners," Guérette added. 

She noted Corrections is currently in the process of investigating options for Thunder Bay, which could include another contract psychiatrist. Corrections is also looking at other models of care, like telemedicine, that have worked in other regions, Guérette said. 

Email Q&A

Correction Service of Canada's response to CBC News’ inquiries regarding psychiatry services for parolees in Thunder Bay:

Q: Can CSC confirm it is looking for another psychiatrist?

A: There is currently a shortage of care providers in the Thunder Bay Area. Psychiatrists are included in this shortfall. Alternate models of care which have already been successfully implemented within other regions within CSC are being investigated.

Q: What does the former psychiatrist's departure mean for parolees?

A: Parolees will be supported by their Case Management Teams to obtain alternate care providers who are capable of meeting their mental health and psychiatric needs. In some cases, their health requirements could be met by family physicians or nurse practitioners.

Q: What is the short term and medium impact for parolees in Thunder Bay?

A: Health care requirements will continue to be met.

Q: Is there a longer term impact for offenders seeking parole who require the support of a psychiatrist?  Would that impact their ability to be granted parole?

A: Those offenders who do require the specialized support of a psychiatrist will be assisted in obtaining this service from a community-based provider.

Q: Why do parolees need the support of a psychiatrist?  Why is this important?

A: Some parolees do require psychiatric follow-up to assist in managing their complex mental health needs.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act requires the Correctional Service of Canada to provide inmates with essential health care.

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