Green Party Leader David Coon is calling for a public inquiry into the handling of suicidal youth in provincial emergency rooms after the death of 16-year-old Lexi Daken last week.
In an interview on Information Morning Fredericton on Tuesday, Coon said the first thing he thought when he heard the news of Lexi's suicide was "How can this happen again?"
It's plain the system is broken and it's past time the province stepped in to do something about it, Coon said.
"Too many teens in crisis have been turned back from emergency rooms without getting help, without getting admitted into a safe place where they won't be able to harm themselves," he said.
"The system failed Lexi, and it has failed other teens before her."
Lexi, a Grade 10 student who had previously attempted suicide, was taken to the emergency room at Fredericton's Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital on Feb. 18, by a school guidance counsellor who was concerned about her mental health.
She waited for eight hours without receiving any mental health intervention and left the hospital with a referral for followup.
Less than a week later, Lexi died by suicide.
Days later, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard conceded the system is "broken," and Horizon Health Network, the authority that operates the Chalmers hospital, said it is reviewing its internal processes "to determine where improvements could have been made."
Coon said the fact that the system isn't working has been established.
What's needed now, he said, is action.
"Something is very broken and we can't wait any longer to fix it. It's going to cost money and we need to spend the money, we need to do it."
Coon said he'll push for an inquiry when the legislature resumes on March 16, noting, "I will be relentless about it."
Liberals call for significant investment in mental health
The Opposition Liberals are also pushing for change at the provincial level in the wake of Lexi Daken's death.
On Tuesday, Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said he would support the call for an inquiry if the family feels it is needed but said immediate change is also needed.
"Public inquiries can be a great tool, but to help prevent similar tragedies in the future, we need action," Melanson said.
"People are struggling right now. There are multiple reports with concrete recommendations that could save lives, we need to start there."
Melanson also called for "significant investments into mental health to be included in the upcoming provincial budget," which will be presented to the legislative assembly on March 16.
He said the provincial government's recently released five-year mental health plan is a start, but it's not enough.
He'd like to see the government implement its plan in three years instead of five, and regional health authorities become more responsive to patients with mental health concerns.
"We would hope to see that these patients are properly and quickly triaged and that they are seen by a mental health professional before they leave the hospital," Melanson said.
Coon has also said he'd like to see money spent on bolstering the recently released five-year mental health plan, including turning the walk-in clinics the province has committed to opening this year into facilities offering emergency 24-hour mental health services.