Mental health rally held at legislature
REGINA - Mental health experts are calling on the Saskatchewan government to replace a century-old psychiatric hospital, saying it can't meet modern needs for care.
Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford was once the centre of mental health services in the province.
But the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan say building is ancient and lacks modern amenities present in most psychiatric facilities in other provinces. They say that doesn't foster patient recovery.
"You can imagine having clinical depression and you're very depressed and you need to go to Battlefords hospital for stability. So you're going into a little room that's 100-years-old, that's in decrepit kind of shape. I mean it's enough to make anybody depressed living like that," said David Nelson, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association's division in Saskatchewan.
"A bright, open area in a new hospital with a modern kind of milieu if you like is something that would help you to get better."
Nelson said the hospital is set up in "an old-fashioned way." There's a dormitory-style layout devoid of single rooms or private bathrooms. Multiple patients live side by side, with little opportunity for privacy. The hospital has good programs but staff can't do appropriate care, he said.
"It's just run down. One of the nurses was talking about, he was going downstairs for an urgent issue and his foot went right through the floor on stairs," said Nelson.
Nelson said mental health experts want a long-term plan to raise the quality of the mental health system. They took their message to politicians at the Saskatchewan legislature Tuesday.
"We don't have a mental health system per se right now," said Nelson.
"It's a real patchwork quilt of underfunded formal resources, of woefully underfunded and scattered community-based organizations and access to getting resources and services especially in rural areas but even in the cities. The waiting lists are getting longer and longer and we don't have adequate services."
The mental health association and the schizophrenia society say the number of acute care psychiatric beds in Saskatchewan has been reduced by more than 100 in the past 20 years. That's coincided with the loss of more than 45 rehabilitation beds at Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford.
But the groups say the demand for mental health services has not had a corresponding decrease.
Health Minister Don McMorris said Tuesday that he's been through the Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford and he's knows it's in rough shape. McMorris says there are a lot of hospitals and long-term care homes that need infrastructure upgrades.
But he said getting a new psychiatric hospital is a high priority.
"There are areas of that hospital that have been fixed up, but fixed up as in '70s, '80s. There are areas where people are living that are more older than that, that are just unacceptable and we need to move on that," said McMorris.
Provincial governments have talked about replacing the hospital for several years.
The former NDP government said in 2006 it was committing $39 million toward construction of a new provincial mental health facility in North Battleford. It said planning for the facility should be complete in 2008, with a two-year construction period likely from 2008 to 2010.
In 2009, the Saskatchewan Party government said it would give the Prairie North Health Region $450,000 for capital planning on the work needed to replace the psychiatric facility and the estimated costs.
But so far, no shovels have been put into the ground.
The province recently poured millions more into long-term and acute-care facilities. McMorris said cash will flow for the mental health facility when the government has more money to spend on capital projects, but he said it hasn't been forgotten.
"Sometimes I think, and fair enough, that people get the impression that it's a psychiatric hospital so it drops down on the list of priorities. It hasn't -- absolutely not in my eyes." said McMorris.