1,100 child mental health patients affectedImage credit
By Selena Ross
What does it take to get off a waiting list?
Of the 1,100 children removed since November from the IWK Health Centre’s waiting list for mental health services — an astonishing statistic the Halifax children’s hospital released widely on Monday — about half weren’t treated, and the hospital removed many of those without directly contacting them.
That’s because the IWK sent a letter to all families on the waiting list in September or October asking them to call back if they still wanted service.
Since then, the hospital has screened hundreds of children for the first time, leaving 70 on the waiting list. But on Tuesday, Vine described that overall 94 per cent reduction as a "really very profound improvement in access to care" without explaining that hundreds of names had simply been deleted.
The hospital used the numbers this week to show its success under a reorganization that included the layoff of 22 youth-care workers.
Parents and mental health advocates challenged the math after reading about the hospital’s announcement this week.
"I had a feeling . . . I just wondered what had happened to that 1,030 people," said John Roswell of the Digby Clare Mental Health Volunteers Association.
"If they could see 1,100 people in three months, we could clean up the mental health waiting lists throughout the province in a big hurry."
Roswell said he called Vine on Wednesday to ask how the hospital came up with the numbers, and she explained the mass mail-out.
"I couldn’t believe what she said," he said. "I just thought it was a terrible misrepresentation of the facts.
"I understand their point about improving patient care and decreasing wait times. I mean, that’s all very applaudable, but I think we need to be upfront about it."
The mother of a 10-year-old Dartmouth boy who waited 14 months for a first appointment said she responded to several surveys the hospital mailed out during that time to reaffirm that the family still wanted care.
Last fall, the letter contained a deadline, said Carol Mack, whose son suffers from anxiety-related problems.
"It was something about how they were reorganizing their wait times . . . then you had to call this phone number, which is the Dartmouth clinic, I believe. (It said) if you are still requiring services, you have to call it by this certain date. Otherwise you’ll be removed from the wait list."
As Mack remembers it, she had about a month to call.
"But if they didn’t have the current phone number or address for someone, you were out of luck. Or, say, someone just missed it, you’d be totally kicked off the list."
Vine said Thursday that the hospital made extra efforts to get in touch with families who didn’t respond. Some also phoned to say they no longer needed care, she said.
Those who didn’t speak to the hospital were taken off the list, but they’re free to call and re-add their names any time they want, she said.
"Some chose to call in. Some didn’t," she said. "It’s totally up to them."
The numbers on the waiting list are not misleading, Vine said. Services were offered to all 1,100 families.
"We can only go by the data that we have. It’s a completely accurate number, based on the information that we had. We went back and re-engaged with people. . . . Based on their answer, we’re moving forward accordingly."
The hospital’s overall progress in the mental health unit is not in doubt, Vine said. Since November, the unit has sped up the rate at which it handles new patients and is seeing more children per week than previously.
She said she had no statistics showing that change.
Wait times too long for some (March 18th)
Mental health care more than hocus-pocus (March 17th)
IWK changes emphasize early intervention (March 15th)
Decision to dispense with 22 youth workers is disgraceful (March 15th)
22 layoffs in IWK mental health program (March 12th)
Mental health treatment for NS teenagers is in crisis! (June 10th, 2010)