Mental health spending going up in N.B. budget after allegations of poor access

·3 min read
New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves shown during a news conference about the province's 2021-22 budget on March 16, 2021.  (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves shown during a news conference about the province's 2021-22 budget on March 16, 2021. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick's budget tabled Tuesday boosts mental health spending after a series of stories about difficulties accessing care and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budget proposes spending an additional $7 million in 2021-22 across several departments.

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves said in his budget speech in the legislature that the spending will "address the increasingly common struggle with mental health that New Brunswickers face."

The increase follows 16-year-old Lexi Daken's death by suicide in February.

Daken's family have publicly called for changes to mental health care, saying the Fredericton-area teen had sought help in an emergency room but left with a referral after waiting eight hours.

That week, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard had outlined a five-year mental health plan. It calls for implementing same-day access to addiction and mental health services.

New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard shown during a media scrum in the legislature on March 16, 2021 following the tabling of the provincial budget.
New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard shown during a media scrum in the legislature on March 16, 2021 following the tabling of the provincial budget. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Shephard told reporters Tuesday that recent stories about access to mental health services have led the province to speed up its timeline to implement changes.

"We have been more aggressive because I believe one of the points we really need to nail down is crisis care, and near crisis care," Shephard said.

She said that she expects to get an update from the regional health authorities by the end of the month and "some announcements" by mid-April.

The spending in the budget increase includes:

  • $3.1 million for the increase in complex cases, high-needs children and youth, the need for group homes, and to establish professional care homes to address the needs of children under the age of 12

  • $3 million to address "growing demand" for addiction and mental health services

  • $350,000 to address shortages of psychologists in schools and hospitals

  • $539,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association BounceBack program to help adults and youth "manage low mood, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress, or worry."

Steeves said the spending is in addition to $5.5 million in the 2020-21 budget.

Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, welcomed additional spending on health care in a statement.

"Our province has long struggled with many critical health-care challenges including a shortage of health-care professionals, long wait times for surgeries, and shortage of mental health and addictions resources," Jeff Steeves said.

Opposition MLAs say the mental health care spending isn't enough.

"This is buying BandAids for bullet holes," Green Party Leader David Coon said of the mental health spending.

Green party Leader David Coon says the additional mental health spending falls short of what's needed to address the need in the province.
Green party Leader David Coon says the additional mental health spending falls short of what's needed to address the need in the province. (CBC)

Coon said the province is budgeting more on unproven small modular nuclear reactors than the increase in mental health care.

"Honest to goodness, given the mental health crisis we have in this province, the suicide rates we've got in the province, that's all the premier was willing to come up with?"

Liberal MLA Rob McKee, the party's finance critic, was also critical of the budget.

"They're talking about adding money for law enforcement and a vague number of $3 million for various mental health and addictions. I don't think it's sufficient."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the spending is a good start.

"It's a shame that it took the death of this young girl, Lexi, to raise it to this level where we get the impression now that government is starting to move to take it seriously," Austin said. "But it is important that government starts to address it."

The province has budgeted to spend more than $3 billion on the health department. That includes $13.2 million for mental health program services.