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Wait times to treat eating disorders hit

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MANITOBA'S Progressive Conservatives say patients seeking treatment for eating disorders from a provincially run program are facing "unacceptable" wait times.

The waits have fluctuated between six and 18 months since last spring, sources say. The current wait is at least a year.

Cameron Friesen, the Progressive Conservatives' health critic, said the Selinger government's failure to properly fund the program, operated by the Women's Health Clinic, is putting lives at risk.

"It was a problem when wait times were six months (last spring); it's a tremendous concern when wait times are 18 months," the Morden-Winkler MLA said Monday.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses, with 10 to 20 per cent of sufferers eventually dying from complications.

Friesen said the government must institute "strong interim measures right now" to bring wait times down.

He said he has no complaint about the Women's Health Clinic program. "These are dedicated individuals. The problem is capacity," he said.

Elaine Stevenson, whose daughter, Alyssa, died at age 24 in 2002 after a 12-year battle with anorexia, said nobody would consider acceptable an 18-month wait for treatment, which she and the Tories said was the case last fall at the Women's Health Clinic. "That's just crazy," she said.

Stevenson said the number of people seeking help soared after a conference on eating disorders in the city in June.

She credits Emily Doer, daughter of former premier Gary Doer, for shining a light on the issue by courageously revealing her own battle with bulimia. Emily Doer is organizing a fundraiser next month to benefit the Health Sciences Centre adult eating-disorders program.

Stevenson said while she's concerned about the long wait times, she's happy to see demand for services rise. "Eating disorders are cloaked in shame and secrecy and guilt, so it's a really healthy thing that people are coming forward and identifying that they have eating disorders," she said.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald said Monday the province is providing increased administrative support to the Women's Health Clinic so clinicians can spend more time with patients.

She said the government hopes to soon reduce wait times there to about five to six months. An adult day program at Health Sciences Centre is also getting a $350,000 boost, she said.

Oswald noted that as with other illnesses, those with eating disorders are triaged and those in "urgent circumstances" do not go on a waiting list. "They're treated without delay," she said.

Stevenson said she was encouraged by new support for the Health Sciences Centre program, noting it will take some pressure off the one operated by the Women's Health Clinic.

Joan Dawkins, executive director of the Women's Health Clinic, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2013 A4

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