Eliminating evening appointments at mental health clinics in Burnaby could hurt people with mental illness, according to the B.C. Nurses' Union.
However, the Fraser Health Authority maintains there's no reduction in service from Burnaby and New Westminster's mental health clinics - despite cutting evening hours.
As of Sept. 1, the health authority stopped offering evening hours at six of its mental health clinics in the Lower Mainland, which means clients can only access help between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
"Fraser Health understands and appreciates that mental health programs are a valuable service to the communities we serve," Denyse Houde, Fraser Health's clinical programs director, told the NOW. "Demands for daytime core services have been steadily increasing, and we are unable to meet these demands with the current staff rotations."
In Burnaby, the realignment will affect group therapy services, two evenings per week, which had 12 to 15 clients per evening.
The groups will be moved to daytime hours, according to Houde.
"As such, Fraser Health is standardizing the operating hours of its community and outpatient mental health and substance use sites to improve client access to daytime core services and reduce wait times for increasing demands for outpatient treatment and counselling," she said. "This change is not a reduction in service."
Services that will continue to be offered after regular business hours include the psychiatric liaison nurses in all emergency departments, mental health and RCMP police liaison services and the Fraser Health crisis line, Houde noted.
However, the shift in service sparked concern from the B.C. Nurses' Union.
"Night clinics offer invaluable services to people who struggle with mental illness, many of whom can't get there during the day because of their work, volunteer or school schedules," said Debra McPherson, B.C. Nurses' Union president, in a media release. "It makes no sense for Fraser Health to be reducing mental health services, when the need is greater than ever." The evening clinics, which opened twice a week until 8 p.m., accepted walk-in clients with a range of mental illnesses - from schizophrenia to anxiety or addiction issues - as well as others referred by physicians.
"Mental health services need to be accessible to all," McPherson said. "They need to be maintained at current levels, not cut. Many of the clients are the working poor and unlikely to have jobs that allow them to take time off during the day for doctor's appointments. They may wind up not getting the help they need in a time of crisis."
The clinics provide counselling, administer medication, group therapy and other services.
Despite the backlash, Houde said Fraser Health is just realigning its resources from evening hours to daytime hours.
"By standardizing operating hours, Fraser Health's mental health and substance use team can provide equitable access to all our community members as the majority of our community mental health and substance use sites do not have evening clinics," she said.
In New Westminster, three to six clients will be affected as the individual assessments and therapy offered one evening a week moved to daytime hours.
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