August 12, 2020

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Questions remain about consolidation of mental-health services

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Mental-health advocate Bonnie Bricker questions whether the WRHA intends to add beds and additional staff to bolster programming when mental-health services are consolidated at Victoria Hospital.</p></p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mental-health advocate Bonnie Bricker questions whether the WRHA intends to add beds and additional staff to bolster programming when mental-health services are consolidated at Victoria Hospital.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/8/2017 (1105 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is going ahead with a $5 million plan to consolidate mental-health services, even as it works to find $83 million in annual savings.

The plan, first announced in April as part of phase two of the health authority’s overall system reorganization, is spelled out in greater detail in a request for proposals posted online this week.

It will see existing acute care mental-health programs at Seven Oaks Hospital and Grace Hospital closed and their services shifted to Victoria Hospital. The WRHA is looking for a contractor who can design and renovate the hospital to accommodate them. The facility will require slight remodelling on its existing sixth floor unit, as well as significant renovations to ready its second and third floor for inpatient care.

The Authority wants construction to begin in November, for move in next spring. Similar programs at Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital remain unchanged, as do the number of available beds across the city.

"Part of the reason for the consolidation is really that we believe we can provide better care," said Lori Lamont, WRHA vice president and chief nursing officer. "It enables us to ensure that the standards are the same across the system."

The upgraded unit requires anti-ligature and barricade-prevention features in all areas, in addition to secured access points, cameras and intercoms, a patient roam alert system, and security film for glass on doors and windows.

Mental-health advocate Bonnie Bricker isn’t opposed to consolidating the wards, but without knowing whether the WRHA intends to add beds and additional staff to bolster the programming, she’s not certain it will make an impact, she said.

Bricker has a passionate interest in the issue. Her son Reid, who was suicidal, was taken to inpatient care at HSC by police in October 2015 but released just hours later. He then went missing and his body was found in the Red River near Selkirk a year ago, 10 months after he first vanished.

While Bricker acknowledges consolidation could make it tougher for some busy families to take the time to visit their loved ones, she doesn’t see the shifting location alone as a problem.

"Are they going to have a better health-care provider ratio? Are they going to have a peer-support office? Are they going to have extra doctors?" She wondered. "Those are some questions that have me scratching my head."

The broader system consolidation has drawn criticism because many people aren’t clear if the situation is being driven by a desire for improvements in the health-care system, or motivated by the millions in savings the province has directed the WRHA to find.

Ken Kollinger, the WRHA’s director of capital planning, said consolidation specific to mental health has been in the works since 2015, when the WRHA released a mental-health consolidation master plan.

"It really laid out the benefits of cohorting the individuals in one location to improve efficiency, training and patient outcomes," Kollinger said.

Amid the confusion, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said it’s important to remember the health-care system report by consultant David Peachey — which many of the changes are being based on — wasn’t about saving money. The rationale for consolidating mental-health services is much the same as it was for the ER and urgent care closures.

It is, he said, "to try to find a better way to deliver care."

That the constant stream of new changes is causing confusion and pushback is inevitable, Goertzen said.

"Every change in health evokes a great deal of emotion because health is emotional."

Still, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said clarity, especially with phase one of the consolidation less than two months away, would help.

"We've been aware of all this change happening for many months now... and we're still waiting to actually get on with it," Sandi Mowat said.

"I'm still really concerned that there's so much confusion about it that patient care is going to suffer."

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @Jane_Gerster

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