Mental Health Matters, 24/7 One door of particular importance
About two years ago, an understated building on the campus of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton was quietly undergoing renovations. It would become the future home of a care centre unlike any other in the area.
On June 17, 2019, the Addiction and Mental Health (AMH) Access 24/7 service centre was officially opened at Anderson Hall.
Its goal is a simple one— to provide a single point of access to addiction and mental health services in the Edmonton zone for all adults 18 years of age and older. Today, that goal is more relevant than ever.
A collaborative effort between the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, made possible through the support of their generous donors, Access 24/7 helps individuals and families navigate a number of community programs or services that best match an individual’s needs. By conducting triage, screenings and assessments, and consolidating referrals, it streamlines the process into a single door of connection for adults seeking addiction or mental health-related support, on a 24-hour basis.
In its first year, Access 24/7 served more than 20,000 unique patients, and on average fielded over 7,250 calls per month from people needing assistance.
The need for support was obvious. Access 24/7’s variety of staff is wide, consisting of a range of care providers and contributors—care managers, mental health therapists, nurses, addiction counsellors, social workers, peer support workers, family peer support workers, psychiatrists, pharmacists, protective services and support staff. Access 24/7 also has partnerships with the Edmonton Police Service, EMS and the RCMP, and works collaboratively to support individuals within the community.
“The breadth of experience and expertise of the various staff members at Access 24/7 is a testament to how complex the navigation of mental health services can be, and how truly well-equipped the centre is to direct any
and all questions that may come their way,” said Sharlene Rutherford, President and CEO of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation.
“And, of course, the underlying reason many of the staff are there day in and day out is because they truly care about their community and the struggles individuals and their families may be going through—some even able to speak from personal experience.”
After a year unlike any other in recent history, the need for the centre is clear.
A NOVEL WINTER EXPERIENCE WITH THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
Before the pandemic, Access 24/7 was receiving approximately 400 monthly walk-ins and often around 300 calls per day.
During the initial lockdown and the pandemic-related restrictions that were introduced, call volumes increased slightly. Due to obvious reasons, walk-ins initially decreased around that time, but are returning to more normal, PRE-COVID levels, roughly around the 350 per month range.
The decrease of walkins has been a doubleedged sword.
Albertans were doing a great job of listening to public health measures, remaining in their homes as much as possible and limiting outside contact. However, more Albertans staying home and practicing social distancing may have had the unintended and unfortunate side effect of deterring individuals from reaching out for help.
As a result, Access 24/7 has noticed two important trends over the last several months.
One was that, despite identifying self-issues or issues within their families, people were more reluctant to connect or reach out. This reasoning was likely related to increased caution surrounding the pandemic and public health measures introduced. Unfortunately, this means some mental health issues may have gone unaddressed or unsupported.
Second—likely correlating with the first trend—is that the presentations of the issues have been more ‘acute.’ That is, they have been more specific, with more situational crises or chronic illnesses that have seemed to worsen over time.
While understandable, healthcare providers are hoping there are some opportunities to reframe perspectives, and somehow capitalize on the massive ongoing wave of change and forced adaptation brought about by the pandemic.
The centre is still 100 per cent operational and continues to go out to see people within the community who are experiencing addiction or mental health concerns. Of course, team members are adhering to proper health and safety standards and guidelines.
While many others had the ability to shift to a work-from-home environment, this was not an option for Access 24/7, due to their operational requirements. The team at Anderson Hall maintained their existing services around the clock, with multiple modes of entry remaining intact. They have incorporated using video-conferencing platforms like Zoom for psychiatry, are still encouraging people to call in by phone, and are still welcoming walk-in consultations (while adhering to health and safety guidelines).
MAINTAINING AN OPEN DOOR TO PROVIDE SUPPORT
Access 24/7 has an important reminder for Albertans with addiction and/or mental health concerns:
DON’T BE AFRAID TO REACH OUT.
At the end of the day, Access 24/7 stands firm in its goal to provide individuals and families with the addiction and/or mental health support that they may need.
“You should feel comfortable and feel ok to just ask a question if something is on your mind. Know that you have a choice,” said one interviewed staff member. “You have the ability to reach out at any time, 24/7.”
The centre is quite clear in how they can help Albertans: if you need direction or support, pick up the phone or walk on in.
It’s about getting people connected to the appropriate resources based on their identified needs for addiction or mental health. Before, the system could feel complex and fragmented, with patients sometimes being sent to the wrong service or getting bounced around. We try to centralize the intake and drive activity to the right places. - Pam Coulson, Director, Urgent and Intensive Services, AMH, Edmonton Zone
It’s a challenging time for everyone. Take a step back to understand the depth of the pandemic and the challenges everyone has had to endure. Everyone is processing it in a different way. - Jason Brown, Program Manager, AMH Access 24/7
If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support services, please do not hesitate to call (780) 4242424 or walk in to Anderson Hall at 10959 102 St NW, any day of the week, .
Access is committed to helping everyone who reaches out, triaging based on urgency and utilizing a collaborative team approach, and will respond to calls and requests in a timely manner.
Addiction and Mental Health Access 24/7 is made possible by the generosity of donors to the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation (www.royalalex.org)
and the Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealthfoundation.ca).
Please visit either website to share your appreciation or make a gift.