Wait time for mental health and addictions counselling ‘a thing of the past’ on Burin Peninsula, minister says
It’s quite a dramatic reversal. One year ago, the wait time to receive mental health and addictions counselling services on the Burin Peninsula was 180 days. Now it’s zero.
Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie likes what he is seeing since the implementation of a primary health care approach in the area and is hoping it can be “cloned” elsewhere in the province.
“Essentially there is really no area of the province with a health care facility that I wouldn’t see at some point would be able to fall into this mold,” Haggie told The Southern Gazette in a phone interview on Monday, July 30, after attending an event at the Dr. S. Beckley Health Centre in Grand Bank.
He was in the area to give an update on the Burin Peninsula primary health care team – a group that includes people with lived experience, community leaders, and members of schools and churches, in addition to frontline health care providers.
The team works with the Burin Peninsula Community Coalition for Mental Health and Wellness and the primary health care community advisory committee to identify priorities for the region.
Speaking at the event, Evelyn Tilley, Eastern Heath’s regional manager of mental health and addictions, said it all started when Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews reached out for help on behalf of his town in the spring of 2017.
Tilley said, within a short period, 10 people on the Burin Peninsula had died by suicide, four of them from Grand Bank.
Eastern Health committed to employing a primary health care approach on the Burin Peninsula, she said, focusing on mental health and addictions to start due to the startling number of suicides.
Make a difference
A stakeholder group was formed a couple of months later. A process to coach and empower that group along with the primary health care team was then carried out in partnership with the Department of Health and Community Services.
“This process encouraged us to believe that we could really make a difference, we could make changes,” Tilley said. “We’ve proven that once you listen to people, change is very much possible.”
That listening resulted in moving from a traditional appointment service to walk-in services.
Tilley said no-shows and cancellations have also been eliminated, freeing up time for more focus on addiction prevention and promotion.
“It’s been inspiring to us as clinicians as we move forward with fresh enthusiasm. We feel ownership of this new approach because we were part of the process of creating it along with the rest of the stakeholders,” Tilley said.
Haggie told The Southern Gazette wait times are “a thing of the past” as patients can now access services when they need it.“They have the care that begins at that point, they can be referred on for other things, and they know they can come back and there’s no challenge in getting back if they need to,” he said, adding everyone bought into the move to the walk-in system.
Among the other speakers at the event was Natalie Randell who lost both her husband and brother-in-law to suicide.
The Grand Bank resident suggested attitudes towards mental health and addictions are shifting.
“Our communities are starting to come out of the dark and stop hiding, and leaving the stigma of several years ago in the past, exactly where it belongs,” she said.
Calling it only the beginning, more must be done, she said, including education and additional supports, as well as understanding, respect and empathy for people struggling with mental health and addiction issues.
The body and mind are one unit, Randell said.
“It needs to be treated that way.”
Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie