Some Hillsborough Hospital patients face 2 moves as P.E.I.'s mental health network changes

·4 min read
Hillsborough Hospital, shown in a 2018 photo, is now treating acute-care psychiatric patients who used to be cared for at Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Unit 9.  (Randy McAndrew/CBC - image credit)
Hillsborough Hospital, shown in a 2018 photo, is now treating acute-care psychiatric patients who used to be cared for at Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Unit 9. (Randy McAndrew/CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Island's Official Opposition says some of the province's most vulnerable residents will have their lives disrupted twice, as construction moves forward on a revamped mental health network.

P.E.I.'s main psychiatric facility, Hillsborough Hospital, has been experiencing a lot of coming and going in recent weeks.

The Charlottetown facility has absorbed the acute-care psychiatric patients who used to be cared for at Queen Elizabeth Hospital's Unit 9. Eventually, Hillsborough Hospital will also become home to a new mental-health day program.

To accommodate those changes, though, the province says "fewer than 15" other patients have been moved out of Hillsborough Hospital into Unit 9 — even though the new plan calls for them to be moved again within two years, to live in the community.

Exactly where hasn't yet been determined. That will ultimately become the responsibility of the province's Department of Social Development and Housing, working with local community groups.

"There's a lot of different wheels in motion here," says Leslie Warren, P.E.I.'s director of acute and complex cases for Mental Health and Addictions.

Kerry Campbell/CBC
Kerry Campbell/CBC

"Each person is going to have their own individual case plan. We'll be working with that individual as well as families to get them moved into a residential-type setting ... These individuals deserve to be in a home-type setting, not in a hospital."

The two dozen patients are people Health P.E.I. refers to as receiving an "alternate level of care."

Warren says they require support because of limited intellectual abilities, sometimes complicated by mental health issues.

For years, experts have been telling Health P.E.I. that they should never have been placed in a psychiatric hospital in the first place.

Until recently, there's been nowhere else for them to go. But over the last few years the number at Hillsborough has been diminishing.

A 2014 consultant's review found roughly half of the hospital's 69 patients at the time didn't belong there.

'Most vulnerable people'

Green Party health critic Michele Beaton agrees with the end goal of moving the patients into the community.

But the opposition politician says the patients should not have been moved from Hillsborough Hospital into yet another hospital, as a transitional step.

"We're talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our health-care system today," she said.

"What we're doing is we are temporarily moving patients from one place where they have resided for a very long time to a temporary location to then move them again.

CBC
CBC

"And we know that when we transfer patients, especially those that are dealing with mental illness, that those adjustments along the way are not usually structured in a very supportive way …

"This is what this government does, over and over again," Beaton said. "They are constantly announcing new programs or new services, and then we find out in the back end that they've never followed through to provide the support."

Staff asked to work part-time?

The Opposition is raising other concerns around the changes at Hillsborough as well.

For example, Health P.E.I. has asked several workers to switch from full-time positions into part-time jobs.

Warren said nobody is being laid off, but acknowledged there has been disruption.

Change is very, very difficult, but we value every single one of our staff and we want to keep them within our system. — Leslie Warren

"Change is very, very difficult, but we value every single one of our staff and we want to keep them within our system," she said. "So we're working very hard for that … We have so many opportunities that are coming up."

Beaton said she is hearing that the change affects "human services workers" whose positions are being switched to 70 per cent of full time.

"My understanding is if they don't take the reduced hours, if they don't take the part-time positions, then by September, they'll be laid off," the MLA said.

"In a health care crisis, why in the world would we be asking any health-care professionals to take a reduction in hours?"

Number of beds changing too

Beaton said she is also concerned that there will be an overall reduction in P.E.I.'s acute-care psychiatric bed capacity. She has been told there will be 10 fewer beds.

"I'm hearing from the community that we need more beds, that we need more services. So a decline in beds is not something that the public is asking for at this point."

For her part, Warren said she believes there will be "three or four" fewer beds, but added: "I often describe it as moving the chess pieces as we move forward to building a new hospital. So we're trying to maintain as much as we can … but we also want people being treated in the right place at the right time."

She said that might mean more people are treated in beds not classified as acute care, including in the facility's pre-discharge unit.

Last August Health P.E.I. said construction of the province's new psychiatric hospital, originally announced by the previous Liberal government in 2018, should be completed during the winter of 2025-26.

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