P.E.I.'s mobile mental health response service is now active, the province's health minister announced Friday.
Ernie Hudson said two of the planned three units are now operational, based in Summerside and Charlottetown, and they have responded to eight calls across the province since Monday. A third unit based in Kings County is to join them later.
The province originally announced it was developing the service with federal funding in 2018.
In January 2021, Health PEI said it was preparing to launch the service that spring, but then management was moved to Medavie Health Services.
On Friday, the health minister told MLAs that Medavie will "operationalize" the service, but disagreed with opposition MLAs who said the service had been privatized.
On Monday, the province announced the launch of a new 24-hour phone line to act as a single point of contact for those requiring mental health services. With mobile units operational, they are being dispatched as needed in response to distress calls to that line.
The mobile units operate between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week. Units are staffed by a paramedic and a mental health worker — either a registered nurse or a social worker.
The minister said police will be dispatched to calls as needed to ensure the safety of clients and staff. He said police would travel in their own vehicles. A government spokesperson said police had not been included in any of the eight responses so far this week.
"The service will provide timely access to mental health assessment, treatment, and connection to appropriate ongoing care," Hudson was quoted in a provincial media release.
"One call will provide fulsome, wraparound services for an individual experiencing a mental health crisis and connect them to all the services they need to improve their mental wellbeing."
Crises happen at all hours, say Greens
While calling the move a positive step forward, opposition parties noted the launch was well behind schedule and had been announced multiple times previously.
We know that people suffering from mental health crises do not pick the time that they're going to have a mental health crisis. - Michele Beaton
Green Party health critic Michele Beaton wanted to know why services are limited to just 12 hours each day.
"We know that people suffering from mental health crises do not pick the time that they're going to have a mental health crisis," said Beaton.
"And we also know that often that happens after 10 o'clock. What services do we have for Islanders at that point in time? We have to recognize that this does not go far enough."
Medavie contract supplied
Also on Friday, the government provided media with copies of the contract the province has entered into with Medavie Health Services Inc.
That contract shows the service will have an annual cost of nearly $3 million, with $1.7 million of that going to Health PEI to pay for salaries of registered nurses, social workers and the clinical lead of the program.
Medavie will receive $1.2 million per year, including management fees worth $107,700 per year.
No conflict found
On a related note, Hudson said the province's deputy minister of health, Mark Spidel, had been cleared of any potential conflict of interest by the province's ethics and integrity commissioner.
Spidel's brother Matt is senior operations manager with Island EMS, the company that provides ambulance service on P.E.I. and a subsidiary of Medavie Health Services.
Hudson said his deputy "has not been involved in the mobile response negotiations… it has been other staff members within Health and Wellness and I think it's important to make that abundantly clear."