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Group in Halifax tells government lack of mental health service is taking its toll

Robbie Weatherbee's soon-to-be son-in-law committed suicide last year opening her eyes to the need for change in how mental health is treated in Canada.
Robbie Weatherbee's soon-to-be son-in-law committed suicide last year opening her eyes to the need for change in how mental health is treated in Canada. - Sueann Musick

Doctors N.S., province seeking short-term solutions

HALIFAX

Robbie Weatherbee is not going to let a family tragedy be forgotten.

Instead, the New Glasgow resident has taken her story of pain and loss to Province House in hopes of preventing it from happening to someone else.

Weatherbee was part of a Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative press conference Monday hosted by Pictou West MLA and Conservative interim leader Karla MacFarlane supporting Weatherbee and other members of the social media group #HowMany NSHA-IWK and their call for change in mental health services.

She told reporters in Halifax that the province’s mental health system failed her daughter’s fiancé, Bryan, and because of that, he is no longer with them.

“We believe with the right help, Bryan could have been saved,” she said. “These are real people.”

Bryan went to the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow on Dec. 20, 2016, in crisis. They assessed him, kept him overnight, but ultimately told him there was nothing more they could do for him. He was put on a list for group therapy, but he didn't live long enough to get the help he needed. The letter for his intake for this came the day after he died. That was two months after that first emergency room visit.

"The pain and guilt that we still feel is indescribable," said Weatherbee. "Bryan did all the things he was supposed to do. He reached out for help when he was in a suicidal crisis, but they told him to go home. I can't imagine the despair and desperation he felt. The mental health system failed my family."

This group is starting a petition calling on the provincial government to launch a formal and independent inquiry into the hiring process for mental health and addictions leadership positions at the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

The petition reads, "We, the undersigned, support this prayer to the NS House of Assembly and Minister of Health to request a formal independent inquiry into the original hiring process for the position of Senior Director (Provincial) of Mental Health and Addictions at the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), and all hiring processes of Directors and Senior Directors from the time that the NSHA was created to present day. We ask that the Minister of Health hold accountable the NSHA to place the best interests of the public above all other considerations in such hiring processes."

MacFarlane said she wants to see money allotted specifically to mental health in Tuesday’s provincial budget.

“We have news stories of psychiatrists who are totally burned out and retiring or leaving this province,” she said. “There are months and months of wait times for mental health services.”

The provincial government announced just hours before this that it would be investing $39.6 million to pay family doctors more and create incentives to get more Nova Scotians off the province's Need a Family Practice list.

However, it made no mention of any of this money being specifically allotted to mental health.

As part of the investments, $13.9 million will go toward increasing compensation for fee-for-service and alternative payment plan family doctors.

Government will increase the basic office visit rate for patients under 65 years of age from $31.72 to $36. The basic office visit rate for patients 65 years and over will increase from $40.26 to $44.54. These are the two most commonly billed fees, used by family doctors who see patients from their roster.

Family doctors under alternative payment plan contracts will also receive an increase consistent with the overall increase to fee-for-service rates.

"Doctors Nova Scotia worked with government to provide some immediate short-term solutions to help stabilize the primary care system in Nova Scotia," said Dr. Manoj Vohra, president, Doctors Nova Scotia. "We believe this is a positive first step toward working together to begin addressing issues in the health-care system – both short and long term."

In working with Doctors Nova Scotia, government has also developed incentives to support family doctors in using technology and taking on more patients, where they can. These incentives include:

  • Patient Attachment Incentive Trust: $6.4 million

A one-time incentive of $150 for each patient a family doctor takes off the provincial list, or who is referred from an emergency department, or without a family doctor due to doctor retirements or relocation

  • Technology Incentive: $4.2 million

Participating family doctors can receive up to $12,000 a year for using technology to communicate with their patients and share information by telephone and through e-health services, as part of a pilot project

  • Enrolment Incentive Trust: $6.6 million

A one-time enrolment incentive of $7.50 per patient, to encourage family doctors to develop an up-to-date patient list, on a voluntary basis.

– Electronic Medical Record Incentive Trust and Electronic Medical Record support: $8.5 million

Financially support family doctors using electronic medical records by offering a one-time payment for those family doctors changing electronic medical record providers and financial support for electronic medical record users.

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