Halifax will soon be home to the province’s first mental health day hospital, which will offer intensive care for 10 patients at a time. The day hospital, which will be located within the Abbie J Lane Memorial Building, near the corner of Summer Street and Jubilee Road on the QEII Health Sciences Centre campus, is set to open mid-April.
This is a new approach to mental health care for Nova Scotia that offers support to patients who require significant care but are better off returning home in the evenings. The aim is to alleviate some pressure on hospital beds and the broader health system.
Doctor Sanjana Sridharan, head of acute consultation and emergency psychiatry in Nova Scotia, says the new clinic will offer a high level of mental health care on daily basis for those who do not require 24-hour support. About 20 percent of psychiatric inpatients typically fall in this category. “The new mental health day hospital will help close the gap between outpatient care and full inpatient hospital admission," Sridharan says.
Nova Scotia’s Central health zone, which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality, has 68 inpatient beds available in its psychiatric care unit; the unit regularly exceeds 100 percent capacity. Occupancy rates have been high for years, but minister of the office of mental health and addictions, Brian Comer, says the problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Due to full psychiatric inpatient beds in the Halifax area, he says many people needing acute mental health care are transferred to other health zones in the province.
“This is putting patients further away from their families and support networks,” says Comer. Moving patients to other zones also uses up valuable ambulance resources. “These impacts are costly, inefficient and most importantly they aren’t meeting the care needs of Nova Scotians.”
The province is putting $1.4 million towards the new day hospital, which will operate seven days a week. It will be staffed by nurses, social workers and a newly hired psychiatrist. It will start off with about 10 patients, with the potential of treating up to 20 people at a time. Admissions will come through community mental health clinics and emergency departments, and can include people discharged from psychiatric inpatient care who may require follow up support.
Comer acknowledges that the needs for mental health care go well beyond HRM. He says after watching this new Halifax day hospital for some time, he will decide if the same mental health care model should be established in other areas of the province.
Universal mental health care
While added acute mental health care is crucial, Comer says “we are trying to do the best we can to get people help before the crisis state.” This is where universal mental health care comes in.
Premier Tim Houston promised publicly funded mental health care in the summertime election campaign. In February the province provided some updates on progress towards establishing universal mental health care, though there are few details around what this would look like. The province has not provided any timeline for when Nova Scotians will be able to get mental health care from private providers without paying out of pocket or through insurance.
Minister Comer says he’s currently working closely with his federal colleagues in Ottawa to discuss how to proceed towards making mental health care publicly funded in Nova Scotia.
“Universal mental health care is a part of my mandate, so we’ll be doing that regardless of the federal government. But with that said, I think we have a really high potential for a really positive relationship here,” he says.
There’s no timeline on where the province expects to have universal mental health care in place. Sam Hickcox, the doctor in charge of creating a new billing code system for mental health, said in February that the work needed on the project is astronomical.