The appointment of the Calgary-based Calgary Centre for Addiction and Mental Health director is the latest in a series of high-profile firings that have rocked the city’s mental health system.
But as the city prepares to welcome the next director of the province’s mental-health agency, it may also be revealing some of the challenges faced by people with mental health issues in the public eye.
As a recent report from the province noted, a lot of the focus has been on mental health professionals and the people who treat them, but the mental health services themselves are still largely underfunded and understaffed.
“A lot of those people who are getting hired are not even on staff at the moment, they are people that we have the experience to hire, that are highly experienced in the field and that have some knowledge of the service they are getting,” said Dr. Carol McElroy, the health officer in charge of the public service for the province.
“It’s the people that are already working there who are the problem.”
As of March 31, there were 5,837 staff employed at the Calgary Centre, a non-profit organization that runs a number of mental-care facilities and outpatient clinics.
Most of those are at public facilities, but McElry said some of them also work in the private sector.
“I think there’s a lot more of those who have expertise that would be more of a priority in our system than we currently have,” she said.
The report found the public mental- health system was underfunded by more than $500 million.
That’s largely because the province has not allocated enough money for public health-care workers to provide quality services to people who need them, the report found.
But the issue is particularly acute for people with psychiatric disorders who often don’t receive proper services because of the stigma attached to mental health disorders, and because they are often the only ones who are seen in emergency departments.
While the report recommended the province increase funding for the public sector to provide services to those with mental-illness and substance-abuse issues, McElray said there are also challenges with the way the province currently funds mental health workers.
The province has only designated $7.7 million as a priority for the next year, while the remaining $5.4 million will go to mental-hospice providers.
“The money that is there is not the right amount of money,” McElroysaid.
McElrry said the report also found that the Calgary Public Health system was in a financial crisis. “
There is an urgent need for the resources that are there, for people who work with mental illness and for people in our community who are struggling with substance use and addiction.”
McElrry said the report also found that the Calgary Public Health system was in a financial crisis.
As of June 30, the city had about $8.7 billion in operating revenue, a drop of more than 20 per cent from the previous year.
That drop was partially attributed to the fact that the province cut funding for community-based and other health-related services.
But McElros report found that a large portion of that reduction was due to a cut to the mental-hearing and mental-behavioral services that the city already provides.
For instance, the program provides free mental-management counseling and supports for people experiencing severe mental illness.
However, that program is only open to people with a diagnosis of severe mental illnesses and a need for mental health care, not everyone who needs it.
“Some of those services are just not there.
We are not providing the level and quality of care they need,” McErry said.
“That’s something that has been a huge barrier to people accessing mental health.”
Mental health workers are not the only one who are facing challenges.
The number of people who have died in Alberta has nearly tripled since 2007, the same year the province introduced a new health insurance plan, and that trend is likely to continue.
“People who have the highest risk for dying in the province, people who were on Medicaid, those who had Medicare or other programs, were disproportionately at risk of dying,” said Daniel Meehan, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Alberta.
“These are people who probably could have survived with some help and support.”
The provincial government is now considering new measures to address the problems with the system.
Earlier this year, the government announced it will provide a grant to the province to cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of mental health needs, a figure that would rise to 75 per cent if it reaches 100 per cent by 2020.
The money will be aimed at mental health-recovery programs and services that have been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths.
The provincial Liberal government has also committed $1.5 billion over five years to the creation of a provincial mental-hygiene service that will also cover the costs