Mental health cuts spark concern

The IWK Health Centre announcements about the changes to the mental health care programs, have been met with objections from patients, families and staff.

Teens gather at a rally on March 22 to reverse cuts that the IWK is making to the mental health program. (Emma Davie photo)

By Emma Davie

The IWK Health Centre‘s announcements about changes to its mental health care programs have been met with objections from patients, families and staff.

The IWK plans to reassess the residential care offered in their mental health programs. This includes the Adolescent Centre for Treatment (ACT), aimed at young people with behavioural issues and difficulties in school; Compass, which is a similar program for younger children; and the CHOICES program for teens with mental illness and substance abuse problems.

These three programs include residential components, which will be moving from 24/7 to 24/5 to help reduce costs and better allocate resources. However, it also means that 22 youth mental health workers will lose their jobs.

A rally against these changes, supported by NSGEU Local 42 on March 29, was held outside the Nova Scotia Legislature.

Mary Jane Hovey, whose 15-year-old daughter is in the ACT program, was among the protestors.

“She’s absolutely devastated. She feels like she’s been let down. She’s spoken up quite a bit, and she feels like no one’s listening because she’s a kid. And to me, that is just, it’s disgusting,” Hovey said.

Mary Jane Hovey holds a sign that reads, "Mental health happens on weekends." (Emma Davie photo)

“The program is basically going from 24/7 to 24/5 … And what do you do for the kids who are suicidal on the weekends? Where do you go?”

Hovey explained there are several alternate resources for parents when situations arise over the weekend–none of which are ideal. There is the mobile crisis unit, which is staffed by volunteers, who try to talk through the situation over the phone, the hospital emergency room, or constant supervision by parents to keep their child away from self-inflicted harm.

“You rely on the social workers to go to the psychiatrist who’s on duty to make the assessment … and they determine whether your child is suicidal enough to be admitted. And I’ve been down that road, and I don’t want to go there again. I find it a much more positive experience with my daughter being in ACT” said Hovey.

“These youth care workers have become our family … and I rely on them. When I’m having issues with my daughter, I will call them, and we just, we figure out what’s best for my daughter, for the family, everything. It’s very much a group effort. And I don’t want to lose that,” Hovey said.

Yet Hovey and others are concerned about the effects these changes will have on the patients in programs like ACT.

“My concern is that this whole issue is going to take away from her treatment. And that’s what I don’t want to happen,” said Hovey.

Mary Sampson, one of the 22 youth care workers losing her job, also has concerns about the patients.

Mary Sampson, one of the 22 youth care workers losing her job, holds a sign at the rally on March 22. (Emma Davie photo)

“It’s going to greatly impact their treatment. A lot of the clients that we deal with have anxiety attachment disorders. They have walls built up that it takes months on end, and 24 hours a day, seven days a week to break those walls down,” Sampson said.

“Now, all of a sudden, we’re ripping those away from them. So I think that they’re going to build higher walls, and I think it’s going to be harder to treat them,” said Sampson.

Jocelyn Vine, vice president of patient care at the IWK, says the hospital recognizes the patients involved are vulnerable young people, and they hope to manage the transition in the best way possible for each individual.

“Each young person’s situation will be evaluated, and we’ll work out a plan that’s going to be suitable to that young person,” Vine said.

She explained that while the plans may not be ideal for the patient, they will be looking at reasonable solutions and compromises. For patients who are on the verge of being discharged, their treatment may be able to continue for a few more weeks.

Vine added that while the changes are upsetting to the patients currently in ACT and other programs, the next group of patients will be able to experience the positive changes that the IWK hopes to make.

“Right now there’s a cohort of young people within ACT, but in the next number of weeks that cohort of young people will be then moving to a different part of their care, and they will be discharged from that aspect of it. So the next group of young people that come in are not going to have this same issue,” Vine said.

Related Links:
IWK improves wait times
Poster: Reverse the Cuts
Video: Rally outside the IWK

But those in the program currently aren’t any less devastated to see their youth care workers being cut.

Hovey said, “It’s amazing what these youth care workers do, and we can’t afford to lose one. The importance of maintaining the program is because these youth care workers are often the first people the kids get to see, before they can get in to see the clinicians, and they build relationships with these kids. These kids are out future, and we need to protect them … If anything, we need to add more youth care workers.”


Related audio
Mary Jane FINALMary Jane Hovey discusses the positive changes ACT has had on her daughter, and why the IWK should be keeping their youth care workers.