More than 26,000 people — including up to 3,000 on Monday — have signed an online petition started by the Victoria parents of a bipolar child who say the 11-year-old was discharged from Victoria General Hospital while in obvious mental distress.
The petition was started nearly two months ago “out of desperation,” says Kelly Bradley, mother of the girl. It calls for specialized hospital units across B.C. to admit children and youth in crisis due to mental-health problems and keep them safe until they are stable.
“We’ve had thousands of comments on our petition from families who have gone through the same things with their children,” she said. “And some of these stories end up tragic — the child has committed suicide because they couldn’t get that help. It’s just a huge gap in B.C.’s health system.”
Recently, when the girl was discharged from the emergency department, Bradley was given a prescription for a sedative and told to get their psychiatrist to admit the girl to Ledger House. That took three weeks, even though she was on the priority list, her mother said.
The girl is still in Ledger House, which provides stabilization and assessment but no long-term treatment.
Child advocates and mental-health experts have told the Times Colonist that there is a shortage of pediatric mental-health services across the province.
The Bradleys’ daughter had been banging her head against the wall and hitting herself, her mother said.
“We were really concerned that she was going to fatally harm herself because she was just so out of control.”
Bradley hopes to present the petition to B.C. Minister of Health Margaret MacDiarmid before the May 14 election.
While she could not speak about individual cases, MacDiarmid said those in crisis aren’t turned away. “However there are situations — and it’s not only with children, and it’s not only in mental health — where people feel that they want an admission and the clinicians are not recommending it. That is very difficult.”
Of the B.C. health-care budget of $16.5 billion, about $1.3 billion is devoted to mental health, she said.
Although Bradley is calling for in-patient beds, MacDiarmid said the ministry has made a decision to put more resources in prevention and health promotion.
The ministry could not mandate in-patient units across the board because of geographic differences and the responsibility of each health authority to manage care in its region.
As a physician, she said, she’s aware of the “terrible stress” that parents of children with mental-health problems undergo.
At Victoria General Hospital, there is the possibility of a crisis stabilization unit, “more along the line of in-patient beds,” said Dr. Richard Crowe, executive medical director of mental health and addiction service.
But that’s a long-term goal. In the short term, VIHA will provide several enhancements to current service, he said.
Those include: hiring several new child psychiatrists, increasing the night and weekend hours of mental-health nurses specializing in child and youth crisis on duty in the ER, and formation of a collaborative care team to provide 24/7 backup for pediatricians and ER physicians.
The number of young people in the pediatric ward for mental illness fluctuates considerably, said Crowe. On average, there are one or two patients with mental illnesses on the pediatric ward.
“However, on occasion, they’ve had up to eight patients on the ward with mental-health issues. This was particularly the case in the last couple of months.”
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