Thursday, April 14, 2011

Public to get say on Nova Scotia's mental health system


An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By John McPhee, Health Reporter

The committee charged with creating the province’s long-awaited mental health and addictions strategy will embark on a series of public meetings next week.

The provincial advisory committee will hold the first of six meetings Monday in Greenwood to get feedback on how programs and services can be improved.

The NDP government first announced its intention to create a strategy last spring. The committee co-chairpersons — Michael Ungar [pictured], a professor of social work at Dalhousie University, and Joyce McDonald of [The Empowerment Connection] — were announced in June and the rest of the committee in the fall.

It is composed of 12 health experts, researchers, mental health clinicians and people living with or affected by mental illness.

The committee kept a low profile since that time, but it has been holding consultations with health-care providers and advocacy organizations, said a spokeswoman from the Health and Wellness Department.

"We’re just letting them do their work and we don’t want to complicate that or distract them," Patricia Murray, acting executive director of mental health and addictions, said in an interview. "It’s a huge job they’re doing and we’re just anxiously anticipating the end result that they’re able to submit."

The committee has met with about 50 groups and more meetings are planned, a recent Health and Wellness Department news release said.

The move to revamp the system has been sparked by concerns about long waiting lists for treatment and how mentally ill people are treated in the justice system, as highlighted by Judge Anne Derrick’s report in December 2010 on the death of Howard Hyde. Hyde died Nov. 22, 2007, after a violent conflict with jail guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth.

Mental health advocate Stephen Ayer of Halifax has criticized the province for being too slow in dealing with the problems in the mental health system. Ayer, the executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, welcomed the consultations.

One committee member and staff from the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation met with the society about three weeks ago. "It was very useful," Ayer said in an interview.

But he is concerned the consultation thus far has been with the people who provide the services, not with those who use the services. At his urging, the committee will meet with people with mental illnesses next month.

As for the strategy, "we are looking forward to seeing some movement in terms of improvements in access to services," he said.

Besides the public meetings, people can also provide input online or through the mail. For more information, go to www.nshrf.ca/mentalhealthandaddictionsstrategy or call 424-4043.

The committee is expected to submit its recommendations to Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald in the fall.


SCHEDULE

Schedule of public meetings on the province’s mental health strategy:
  • April 18: Greenwood, 8 a.m. to noon, 14 Wing Greenwood, Birchall Training Centre, Chamber Room
  • April 26: Amherst, 8 a.m. to noon, Tantramar Theatre, 98 Victoria St. E.
  • April 27: Sydney, 8 a.m. to noon, Cape Breton University, 1250 Grand Lake Rd., multi-purpose rooms A and B
  • May 3: Halifax, 1 to 5 p.m., Saint Mary’s University, Burke Building, Burke Theatre B (entrance off Inglis Street)
  • May 5: Bridgewater, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., South Shore Regional Hospital, lecture rooms 1 to 3 (third floor)
  • May 16: Halifax, 8 a.m. to noon, Universite Sainte-Anne, Campus de Halifax, 1589 Walnut St. It will also be broadcast to campuses in Tusket, Petit de Grat, Church Point and Grand Etang.

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