Health and child welfare officials have agreed to work together on a three-year plan to improve services for a growing number of children and youth with mental-health problems on Vancouver Island.
It’s the first time officials from two government ministries have agreed to develop a joint plan, although they have been co-operating for years.
“It’s hard for me to express how excited I am about that, because it’s a very significant move forward,” said Dr. Richard Crow, executive medical director of mental health and addiction services for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
Officials hope the joint service plan will result in a more seamless system of supports for children and youth in crisis.
The health authority provides emergency and acute care, while the Children’s Ministry delivers mental-health supports in the community.
“We need to work together to provide this,” Crow said.
“If VIHA’s only looking at what’s happening in the hospital, without linking to the community, we’re not really dealing with the problem.”
In the past, families have complained that the system is confusing and fractured, making it difficult to get help.
Crow said the growing demand for help has highlighted gaps in services.
“In the last year, [demand] has remained very high,” he said. “That trend is continuing. … It appears to be occurring through the province and potentially nationally.”
Crow said the reason for the spike is unclear.
“We’re seeing a lot more adolescent issues and stresses among adolescents, an increase in eating disorders and anxiety.”
Kelly and Owen Bradley welcomed the news. The Victoria couple launched an online petition for better mental-health care when their daughter was sent home from the emergency department at Victoria General Hospital after a series of mental health crises.
“Owen and I were thrilled to hear about the meeting, and I think it’s a step in the right direction and a relief to us,” Kelly Bradley said.
“I hope that with these improved services other families won’t have to go through what we did with our daughter.”
The couple will continue to push the government for a provincewide plan for emergency crisis care and seamless community supports, she said.
VIHA moved earlier this year to bolster its supports after complaints by the Bradleys and others.
Crow said a team of seven psychiatrists — two for children and five for adults — now provide urgent advice around the clock. The team has been in operation for about a month.
Patients coming to emergency “will be seen in a more timely manner and also admitted in a more timely manner,” Crow said.
“Currently, they are admitted under pediatricians, and the pediatricians really need that extra support from psychiatry.”
VIHA also expanded the hours of crisis nurses and will look at safety upgrades to the pediatric ward, Crow said.
The health authority has had less success hiring three new psychiatrists who treat children because of a national shortage of candidates.
As a result, children and youth still face long waits for treatment at Ledger House, the only in-patient mental-health treatment facility for young people on Vancouver Island.
“We absolutely need to see that change and improve,” Crow said.
“More physicians are part of the solution.”
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