Jan Stick calls for a mental health strategy in Yukon

Yukon NDP MLA for Riverdale South Jan Stick asked the following questions about an overdue mental health strategy for Yukon to the Yukon Party government on November 5, 2015:

Yukon NDP Health Critic Jan Stick: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In August the Yukon NDP hosted a roundtable on mental health with Whitehorse and Yukon service providers. Mental health services in the communities were identified as one of the leading mental health issues facing Yukoners.

Yukon service providers want to see coordinated and accessible mental health services that are available in the rural communities, not just based in Whitehorse. When I asked these professionals what experiences they and their clients have had in accessing mental health care in the communities, they described challenges of understaffing and a lack of coordinated services for concurrent mental health issues.

Mr. Speaker, when will this government heed Yukon’s front-line experts and focus on community-based mental health service delivery?

Health and Social Services minister Mike Nixon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I have indicated in this House before, mental health is a key focus area for the department. It is a key focus area for this government and me, as minister. It is also a focus for the provincial and territorial premiers in the Council of the Federation, who have asked ministers such as me — who are responsible for mental health — to look at innovative ways to address the complex issues and the service delivery challenges of mental wellness and mental health in the territories and provinces across Canada.

Yukon continues to work with the P/T ministers of health to look at the best ways to achieve a positive collective impact on the mental health and well-being of Canadians in the most equitable, efficient and effective way possible. I think that is very important as we move forward, Mr. Speaker.

We also want to ensure that the work that we do is evidence-based in our decision-making and in assessing how system and delivery changes, through the implementation, are impacting the population.

As I indicated, this is a priority issue for this government and an important issue for me as minister and for the Premier. We continue the good work.

Stick: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With Yukon’s mental health services centralized in Whitehorse, it’s little wonder that Yukon service providers are frustrated with the lack of coordination between government departments and with NGOs and service providers in communities. Round table participants had a wealth of ideas to support and enhance Yukon’s community mental health services. They want to see collaboration between First Nation governments and the Yukon government, better communication between Whitehorse and the communities, and seamless coordination for Yukoners transitioning from Whitehorse services to the communities.

Mr. Speaker, when will this government sit down and listen to Yukon’s front-line experts about their ideas to improve mental health services in Yukon’s communities?

Nixon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the member opposite for her question. This is an important question for this government. It’s an important question for me as minister. Certainly, as I indicated in my first response, this is an area of focus for the department and this government.

We continue to work with our provincial and territorial counterparts across the country on this very important issue. The department, along with Yukon Hospital Corporation and other health care providers, provide a range of services and supports to clients and families experiencing mental health issues, challenges, concurrent disorders and addictions across the territory.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, it was the Yukon Party that created rural positions that didn’t exist before in the territory. I thank my predecessors for doing that good work.

We’ll continue to look at gaps; we’ll continue to look at services across the territory. This is an important issue for us. I again thank the member opposite for the question, but we will continue the good work.

Stick: In his report for 2014-15, the chief of medical staff at the Yukon Hospital Corporation said — and I quote: “Psychiatry and care of the mentally ill patient is probably the largest gap in service in the Yukon.” He went on to cite a number of barriers including, but not limited to, insufficient mental health nurses and social workers, poor coordination of services within the community and lack of close follow-up of patients treated in the hospital and then released but not yet seen by a community agency.

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that there’s much work to be done across the territory and that this work needs clarity and direction. So, Mr. Speaker, when will this government deliver, finally, its long-promised Yukon mental health strategy?

Nixon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. What this Yukon Party did deliver were rural positions that weren’t in existence before, something that the members opposite failed to do when they were in power. We will continue to look at our internal delivery and gaps in integrated case management, transition points and effective utilization of our own internal resources. This is an important issue for this government and we do look for ways to work collaboratively on this very issue.

In fact, Ross River is a great example of collaboration between health, mental health and social services and First Nation staff to put client and patient first and wrap services together for greater access and improved outcomes.

We will want to now try different approaches in different communities and support through telehealth, and other simple technologies can certainly aid in that process.

We are committed to making mental health and addictions a key focus, as I indicated in both prior responses, and we will continue to learn from our provincial and our territorial colleagues on best practices.

I do thank the Premier for making this an important issue at the COF table. I thank my colleagues here on this side of the House for their support with mental health initiatives. There is some good work that is happening. I commend the department for being the lead on this.


Photo: healthblog / flickr. Used under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.