N.S. expands rural mental health program that allows virtual assessment option

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Nova Scotia Minister for Youth and Mental Health and Addictions Brian Comer announced the new program at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., on Thursday. (CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia Minister for Youth and Mental Health and Addictions Brian Comer announced the new program at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., on Thursday. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia is expanding a program this fall that gives people in rural areas needing urgent mental health care the option to use a virtual assessment at the hospital.

"The new virtual option allows the individuals to get timely access in the communities where they live," Nova Scotia Minister for Youth and Mental Health and Addictions Brian Comer said during the announcement at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., on Thursday.

"It helps to reduce the burden of travel. It connects them to care that meets their individual needs and puts them in the best position to begin healing on their journey to recovery."

According to the press release for the announcement, a health-care professional would work with the person seeking help, as well as their family or loved ones, during the virtual assessment to get a better understanding of their needs. Then, if it's needed, the health-care professional would help "stabilize them while making a plan of care involving their clinician or a mental health treatment program."

The program was tested in September 2021 at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and then later at St. Martha's Regional Hospital March 2022.

The province is looking to expand the program to western parts of the province, including the Annapolis Valley and South Shore later this fall.

Program expansion 'a long time coming'

"There's no one size fits all when it comes to health, mental health and addiction concerns," Comer said. "Having a variety of support such as this allows innovative ways to reflect and meet the needs of the diverse groups of Nova Scotians."

Chris Bourque, manager of intake urgent care for Nova Scotia Health's mental health and addictions, said the goal is to give people more options.

"The implementation of this initiative, though still early, has demonstrated its potential to improve access to care," Bourque said.

Before politics, Comer said he worked as a registered nurse in mental health care. He said this kind of care has been a "long time coming" for many people in rural Nova Scotia.

"I'm very hopeful this will positively impact rural Nova Scotians living with addictions and mental health issues," Comer said.

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