The Nova Scotia government is expanding its mental health day hospital program from Halifax to Sydney.
The pilot project provides medication, psychiatric programs and services in hospital, but allows patients to go home at the end of the day, which the government says reduces wait times for access to mental health care and frees up in-patient beds for other medical needs.
Cameron Rankin, a peer support worker in Sydney who has previously needed mental health care, said the new day hospital project is a game changer.
"There will be so many less people falling through cracks and it's just a massive gap filled by adding this, so on behalf of someone who has kind of lived on both sides and is in a place now to support, thank you to everyone who has made this happen," he said after the program was announced Monday at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney.
"This will make a big, big difference in the lives of Cape Bretoners and I think it'll make a big difference in mental health as a whole."
The day hospital program provides an alternative intensive treatment for people who don't need around-the-clock hospital care, said Brian Comer, minister responsible for Addictions and Mental Health.
"Right now, the only pathway to intensive mental health treatment for people in Cape Breton is to be admitted by an in-patient psychiatrist," he said.
"But we know that this type of care isn't necessary for everyone."
Psychiatric in-patient hospital beds across the province have had high occupancy rates, but it is worse for hospitals in the Eastern zone, which includes Cape Breton, where the occupancy rate has typically been above 90 per cent, Comer said.
That means some patients have to be transferred to hospitals in other zones, taking them away from their homes and families and adding to the number of transfers needed by ambulance.
"These impacts are costly, inefficient and most importantly, they aren't meeting the care needs of Nova Scotians," the minister said.
The day hospital, expected to open next spring, will be located inside the regional hospital and will operate seven days a week with an initial capacity of 10 patients a day, with plans to increase to 15.
The Halifax pilot project has already had an impact there, Comer said, by offering treatment for 50 patients and creating a savings of more than 1,000 in-patient days in hospital.
"Expanding the pilot in Cape Breton, where we know the demand is high, will ensure Cape Bretoners receive the same quality of care here at home."
The day hospital program is overseen by a psychiatrist and includes clinical assistants, mental health nurses and social workers.
In the spring, the government admitted it was short eight full-time psychiatrists in Cape Breton.
Recruitment and retention has been a challenge everywhere, not just in Cape Breton, said Comer, adding new clinical assistants have been hired and two new psychiatrists are coming from the United Kingdom.
"What I've been really hearing lately in Cape Breton is there's a really positive shift in the culture," he said, making recruitment and retention easier.
Research shows that day hospital programs have the same effectiveness as in-patient programs, said Dr. Faisal Rahman, chief of psychiatry for the Eastern zone.
"In addition, the day hospital will ease pressure on in-patient psychiatric units, emergency departments and emergency health services without compromising patient care or clinical outcomes for people living with mental illness," he said.
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