Mental health doctors help discharge patients on time: 'You feel better'

Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare is looking to expand on a program that helps patients with mental health issues while they're already in hospital with another condition.

New mental health ER, outreach program planned for Windsor

Joe Bietola, 70, fractured his leg and spent three months in hospital at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. He suffers from anxiety, which got worse during that time, and received specific mental health help. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Spending three months in a hospital bed is a tough pill to swallow for anyone. It's even more difficult when your anxiety kicks into high gear.

Joe Bietola has been anxious all his life. It came to a head when he fractured his leg, and was sent to Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare for several weeks. Confined to a room, unable to get around on his own, Bietola's anxiousness only got worse as each day passed. He described it like being a zombie in bed.

It's like you're here but you're not here. It's like you're on the outside looking in.- Joe Bietola, lives with anxiety

"I felt the churning inside ... little blurred vision. It was very uncomfortable, a whole day of having those feelings wasn't the best," Bietola said. "Everybody gets anxiety, it's just you hate to have it all day. I think it was due to me doing nothing, not being able to walk and me laying in bed."

Help at your fingertips

Bietola's leg injury wasn't the only thing getting treated. Mental health support was right at his fingertips.

"I wasn't sleeping. When they addressed it, I started to calm down, all the symptoms started to go [away]. They helped me really good," he said.

Simple things like talking with a trained mental health physician, being prescribed the correct anxiety medication or just getting out of the room helped ease his mind. A nurse and psychiatrist specifically focussed on his mental well-being saw him on a regular basis.

"A lot of times you don't feel like getting out of bed, but you have to force yourself," he said.

Mental health not a focus before

The 70-year-old has seen how the local health care system has changed over the years. Back in 1998, Bietola was in hospital for six weeks following quadruple bypass surgery. Back then, his anxiety was never addressed during his stay.

"They never brought it up, but I felt it," he said. "But this time, as soon as I mentioned it, they were right there. They didn't waste any time."

Recently, the road to recovery was a lot quicker, Bietola said, because of the mental health help.

"You feel better physically," he said.

Program aims to alleviate hospital pressures

Lead nurse with the neuro behavioural outreach program, Kim Stockinger, and psychiatrist Jan Taliga discuss patients who require mental health attention. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Increased recovery times is one of the driving forces behind Hotel Dieu's neuro behiavoural care outreach program. It started back in December 2015, but Kim Stockinger believes it's still in its "infancy stage." She's the team's lead nurse practitioner.

Officials discovered some of the disruptive behaviours brought on by mental health issues were prolonging hospital stays so this program was created to help ensure the patient was discharged on time.

"And obviously, as we move them through the system we make sure their hospitalization is as good as it can be and that they're not here frightened or anxious or sad or overwhelmed by the experience," Stockinger said. "It's very overwhelming for elderly people to be surrounded by so many different people with so many different routines and out of their element."

Without the program, Stockinger believes the "quality of hospitalization would be poorer" and more people would struggle.

Hotel-Dieu seeking $8M to expand

Aiming to improve on the success, the healthcare centre has put together a proposal to expand mental health services. They've requested $8-million from the province to do it.

"We want to be in the business of getting people discharged sooner, rather than later," said Bill Marra, vice president of external affairs at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare.

One component they're looking to expand is the outreach mental health program. Marra said Hotel-Dieu's "resources are taxed to the limit" and the current outreach program is at capacity. 

Hotel-Dieu's "resources are taxed to the limit"- Bill Marra, VP, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare

"That transition, that discharge into the community and getting enough home support is critical to them being able to function in the community and really minimize the recidivism rate around returning to the ER or being re-admitted. Our goal is to ensure that once you're discharged you have a very, very good opportunity to continue to function in the community with those supports."

Another piece of the puzzle they're looking to add is a mental health emergency assessment centre. It would be entirely new, something that doesn't exist in the region. Marra said this would help cut wait times in traditional ERs.

Hotel-Dieu expects to hear back about its funding request when the provincial budget is released in a few weeks.