Saskatchewan’s NDP leader says mental health care is health care, and it’s time it was treated that way.
Cam Broten launched his party’s election platform on mental health at a playground in south Regina on Tuesday morning. He explained the location represents a key part of the plan, which will focus on providing free access to mental health counselling services for children and youth.
“If we can address concerns for young people early on, we give them the best chance of being on the right track to do well,” he said. “We can also actually save dollars in the long run by preventing the crisis, by preventing the emergency.”
Broten said providing insured health coverage for up to eight counselling appointments per year for youth will help make Saskatchewan a leader in mental health care in Canada. The cost is estimated at $26.6 million over four years.
He said the focus comes from talking to friends, family members and constituents who are struggling to access mental health services.
“Desperate moms or dads saying ‘hey, I need help for my child, but I just don’t know where I can go or what I can get, the wait for a psychiatrist is unbearably long.’ So clearly we need more options,” Broten said.
The NDP platform includes the following plans to improve mental health services:
- Covering mental health care as an insured service for children and youth for up to eight counselling sessions per year.
- Reducing waits for mental health care appointments by creating two provincial mental health specialty clinics.
- Using the promised Quick Care clinics in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw to increase availability of mental health assessments as an alternative to emergency rooms.
- Hiring 20 more mental health care workers including psychologists and social workers to work in northern communities.
- Expanding the Hub program to more northern communities, to better connect at-risk people and families with supports.
- Expanding a current pilot program to hire mental health workers to partner with police officers to respond to calls where mental health intervention is more appropriate.
- Covering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through Workers’ Compensation.
Broten said the NDP promise to hire more mental health workers for northern Saskatchewan is the key to addressing concerns raised by frontline workers during his visits to the north.
“I’ve heard the incredible frustration, the incredible burn-out that they’ve been experiencing when they know that the need is immense, the need is great, but the help isn’t there and the complement – the number of workers – aren’t there to actually help,” he said.
He said hiring more people will provide the backup needed to retain mental health professionals so they aren’t overworked.
The cost of the two mental health specialty clinics in Saskatoon and Regina would be about $8.1 million over a four-year term.
“It will make it easier for a patient who needs help to get that help in one spot with the right professionals there,” Broten said. “So instead of having a patient bounce around to many offices on multiple days, there’s a clear entry point.”
If elected, the NDP is also promising to add PTSD to the list of psychological issues covered by Workers’ Compensation.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan responded to the NDP mental health platform by pointing out that mental health care has been a priority for this government. He said a provincial commissioner has been working on a road map for mental health and addictions services over the next 10 years.
He said the new $400 million hospital in North Battleford is another example of the SaskParty’s commitment to improving mental health services.
Duncan said several other initiatives show that the SaskParty government is taking action right now to improve mental health services.
“The connecting to care program – which Saskatoon has targeted mental health clients for their portion of the program – that’s some of the best money that we’ll ever spend in our health care budget, and our health care budget is over $5.1 billion,” Duncan said.
He also used the example of the PACT program, which matches mental health workers with police officers to respond to people in crisis.
There are currently two police crisis teams in Saskatoon and one in Regina. The NDP is proposing to expand that pilot project by hiring eight more mental health workers to partner with police.