South Bruce Grey Health Centre board discusses ‘gridlock’ in treating mental health patients

·4 min read

SBGHC – In her chief of staff report to the hospital board, Dr. Lisa Roth discussed an area where change is needed – the way mental health patients are treated in the emergency room.

She said, “It’s an area where we’re not serving people properly.”

Roth said a patient with angina would expect to be sent to London for further treatment within a day or two, but told of a situation where someone with an acute mental health crisis waited several days for appropriate treatment.

“It’s a huge stress point for us,” she said, noting the situation is worse for pediatric patients.

The usual procedure is for someone showing up at a SBGHC hospital with a mental health crisis to be sent to Owen Sound. But that hospital has only 35 beds for mental health patients, and some of those beds will be occupied by people who need care in a different setting.

“Let’s think outside the box,” said Roth. “Maybe we need two levels of beds, which are funded differently.” She noted it’s not a bed issue – every hospital including the one in Owen Sound has enough beds. “It’s a staffing issue, or rather, funding for the staff.”

Hospital CEO Michael Barrett explained, “It’s a big, complicated issue. But people are waiting in the ER who shouldn’t be there … it’s a system issue,” he said. He added that those 35 beds in Owen Sound for mental health patients are usually full. Some people are staying longer than they need to – they need specialized care elsewhere, so acute patients have access to beds.

Barrett said it’s important for both patient and staff at a small hospital, for the patient to be at the “right location for the right care.” That’s not happening now.

The bottom line, he said, is physicians are very concerned that the demand for acute mental health services is greater than capacity. The system needs to work together.

Barrett and Angela Stanley, vice-president of clinical services, will be meeting with the Southwest Local Health Integration Network’s mental health and addictions physician lead from St. Thomas, Dr. Guiseppe Gauaiana, and with the mental health and addictions program lead Julie Moore.

“It’s been a challenge for many years,” Barrett said. “The physicians are very interested in assisting us with this.”

CEO presents report to board

Barrett presented his report to council, focusing on five areas: the hospital’s response to COVID-19, surgical services redistribution, Ontario Health Team development, the hospital’s strategic plan, and the medical isotopes advisory panel.

Regarding COVID-19, local cases continue to climb, although the area hasn’t seen the kind of numbers that have been seen in other parts of the province. “Grey-Bruce did remarkably well in the first wave, and again in the second so far,” he said.

There have been no deaths from COVID-19 in Grey-Bruce to date, there are currently (as of press time) no outbreaks in long-term care homes, and no one with COVID-19 has been admitted to SBGHC.

Volumes at assessment centres vary – they’re back down again, Barrett said.

He noted the major difference to date between the second wave response and the first, is that the first time, “the focus was entirely on COVID-19 … it’s so different this time.” Business continues as usual, in addition to the second wave, meaning things are very busy.

No actions have taken place, but Barrett said “conversations are taking place” about surgeries and other matters.

In trying to deal with the backlog of surgeries from the first wave, Barrett said there’s an effort to move patients and surgeons to other centres to maximize capacity. SBGHC is affected only in a very limited way.

Barrett concluded his presentation by telling the board about Bruce Power’s new medical isotope advisory panel consisting of experts and medical professionals to provide an external perspective in the development of its isotope program.

Bruce Power is a leading international producer of Cobalt-60. It’s used to sterilize medical equipment; contain the Zika virus; and treat brain tumours, breast cancer, prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours (starting in 2022).

“There are some very interesting initiatives,” said Barrett.

SBGHC is a member of the advisory panel.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times