Friday, June 4, 2010

Official defends mental health service

An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Provincial official says officials know system needs more resources

By John McPhee, Health Reporter

Mental health providers are doing the best they can with limited resources for Nova Scotians, the acting head of mental health services for the province said Thursday.

Faizal Nanji was responding to the auditor general’s report released Wednesday. It highlighted failures to meet standards of mental health care.

Jacques Lapointe [pictured] also criticized the standards for being vague and the fact that a clear monitoring system doesn’t exist.

"We knew these standards were something we’d need to aspire to, and really, that a significant amount of resources — financial, human capital — would be required to help bridge the gap," Nanji said in an interview.

But those resources don’t yet exist, he said.

"That’s our constant battle, to continue to advocate from here for increased funding, to make the case," Nanji said. "We’re at a key juncture."

Nova Scotia is the only province to have mental health standards, which were established in 2003.

Lapointe’s office studied 358 cases in three different health authorities and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax in an attempt to gauge how well those standards are being met. Only 14 per cent of those cases met all of the standards the auditor general selected for testing.

For example, when a doctor refers a patient to mental health care, that referral should be reviewed within one working day. The auditor general’s office looked at 125 cases in the Capital, Annapolis Valley and Colchester East Hants health districts, and at the IWK. Of those referrals, 41 were reviewed in one day.

As well, a patient accepted into the system should be assessed within 10 working days. Out of 54 cases examined in the three districts and at the IWK, only six people were assessed within that time, the auditor general said.

The Capital district health authority, the IWK and the other health districts targeted in the report have accepted the auditor general’s recommendations.

Lapointe was working with information from a year ago, a Capital health district official said Thursday.

Progress has already been made in some areas that were singled out, said Barbara Hall, vice-president of person-centred services.

The district does keep tabs of wait times and how quickly cases are reviewed, Hall said.

"Some of those systems are not the best. There a lot of manual processes, and we have been working on improving that."

The province’s mental health services department will work with each of the province’s nine health authorities to improve care, Nanji said.

On top of the auditor general’s report, an IWK official told MLAs this week that up to 1,000 families are on a year-long waiting list for mental health services.

"We’re doing the best we can to provide a service that’s good, safe and accessible," Nanji said. "But again, we do need more resources in various forms."

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