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New centre eyed to treat urgent mental-health patients

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Troy Shantz

When someone shows up at the hospital emergency department suffering a mental health breakdown it means the system hasn’t worked very well, local medical experts say.

“We don’t want to (be) treating people at the point of crisis. We want to help people very early on because that’s the … best outcome for mental health issues,” said Dr. Emmanuel Anyaegbuna, chief of psychiatry at Bluewater Health.

One idea under discussion is the establishment of an urgent response centre specifically designed for mental health and addiction issues.

Alan Stevenson of Canadian Mental Health said Sudbury’s Health Sciences North uses such a model.

“Somebody could get that first assessment in initiation of treatment where it’s appropriate in the community at a wide range of hours, seven-days a week,” he said.

The Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network is currently reviewing a request to approve such a centre for Sarnia and Chatham, along with a funding request for $900,000.

Anyaegbuna and Stevenson were among a panel of experts who gathered to discuss mental health and addiction services at a roundtable in Sarnia last week.

Early treatment is available at a number of agencies including St. Clair Child and Youth and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Bluewater Health also has available services listed at

“The interventions are started earlier, and then the outcome is usually much better,” said Anyaegbuna, who is also medical director of mental health and addictions services at the hospital.

Often when individuals don’t get help early on they arrive at the emergency department with symptoms at the boiling point.

But that isn’t the best place to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Mental health patients seen by doctors and admitted can expect to wait an average 30 hours in the ER before a bed opens up in the Mental Health Inpatient Department, officials say.

Despite the department having grown to 37 beds, it’s almost always at 100% capacity.

“It’s happening more often than we would like now. I think people are waiting an average of two days in the ER for a bed,” said Anyaegbuna.

“The ER is not the best place for people with mental health because of how unpredictable the ER is.”

No one is “abandoned” in the ER and specially trained mental health professionals are on staff to assist patients experiencing psychiatric turmoil, Anyaegbuna said.

“There are people who have waited too long and have gone into crisis. That means they have to come to the ER,” he said.

“But the preference would be to detect things early, and the only way we can do that is if we have the community working together.”

Also participating in the roundtable were Sue Barnes, executive director of St. Clair Child and Youth Services, addiction treatment advocate Laurie Hicks, and Paula Reaume-Zimmer, vice-president of mental health and addictions at Bluewater Health.



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