The recent end of evening hours offered at a Burnaby mental health clinic is only the beginning of further cuts in the future if people don't take a stand now, according to the B.C. Nurses' Union.
At Monday night's city council meeting, Debra McPherson, nurses' union president, came as a delegation to council to discuss the state of mental health services in the city and what the implications are to the Fraser Health Authority's recent decision to cut back hours at six mental health clinics across the region.
As of Sept. 1, those mental health clinics, including the outreach clinic at Burnaby Hospital, ceased offering evening hour services - the clinics finish operating at 4:30 p.m. The outreach clinic has about five health-care professionals, including nurses and social workers, who have been affected by the change.
"The absence of services for the mentally ill across the province, as well as here in Burnaby, is a significant issue for us, ... as it has been for a number of years," McPherson told council.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will be affected by mental illness - and Burnaby ranks second (after Surrey) when it comes to the number of people suffering from mental illness in the region.
"This community can't afford to see services cut any more than they already have," she added. "We can't forget the human cost in our society when some of our most marginalized citizens are even further injured or abandoned."
McPherson noted the health authorities have said they are preparing to cut down to core services in order to balance budgets in the future. Only two services are guaranteed for mental illness in the Mental Health Act, and that is the right for physician and hospital visits.
One Burnaby nurse who works with young adults suffering from mental illnesses had a workload of 40 patients five years ago; now she has 60 to 70 patients. Provincial guidelines state a caseload should not exceed 20, McPherson said, but "this is not the case anymore."
"What happens in an emergency?" she added. "What happens when a patient calls at 4:45 p.m. in crisis? Unbelievably a community nurse tells us they are no longer allowed to work with a patient to help them through their crisis. Now they're obligated to tell them to go to the ER for help."
McPherson said the health authority is making these decisions to balance its budget, but meanwhile it's paying its CEO and president, Dr. Nigel Murray, $384,660 a year.
McPherson said the services are a matter of life and death and that advocating for mental health services is everyone's job.
"Service cuts aren't just jeopardizing trusted relationships between nurses and patients, but are further destabilizing an already unstable population," she said.
Mayor Derek Corrigan said the city has no say when it comes to health care but agreed with McPherson that the savings from these cuts now will have negative effects later.
"(You can) avoid small costs in regard to providing service and pay a large cost in relation to not having those services available," he said. "It's disappointing for us, and all of us are on side with you in regards to advocating to the provincial government to renew those services, but I'm not hopeful, and I've seen too many of these things happen in the past."
Council asked staff to prepare a report "that will support, with facts, the desire of council to advocate on behalf of these additional mental-health services and to object to withdrawal of these services of our community."
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