Highly vulnerable patients

Auditor flags service gaps for mentally ill, addicted

Vulnerable patients need access to services: report

Highly vulnerable patients must be able to access the services they need, and more needs to be done to ensure that happens, Auditor General of B.C. Carol Bellringer said in her latest audit released Tuesday morning.

In the report, Access to Adult Tertiary Mental Health and Substance Use Services, Bellringer and her team looked at how the province’s health care system manages access to the highest level of mental health and substance use services.

While there were pockets of good practice found, Bellringer recommended that more needs to be done to ensure highly vulnerable patients can access the services they need.

For someone needing help, it boils down to being able to access services in a timely manner, Bellringer told Black Press.

“They want to get in the system when they need to,” she said.

Those with mental health and substance abuse problems come from all walks of life, she said. These people can face social stigmas and discrimination, and encounter obstacles in their efforts to find suitable housing, for example.

Those needing access to mental health and substance use services are highly vulnerable, and may be homeless or at risk of homelessness, and may be caught up in the criminal justice system.

The province’s mental health and substance use services were previously housed at Riverview Hospital, but Bellringer said her audit was not about that facility’s closure.

She said the health system as a whole needs to do more to ensure people can access the services they need.

Bellringer said health authorities need more information to determine if the needs of patients are met, and to determine if the programs are effective. And while there is no provincial data to identify service gaps, some service needs may indeed not be met.

“All health authority program staff we interviewed identified populations whose needs go beyond the threshold of services currently available,” Bellringer’s report states.

That includes patients with mental health or substance abuse issues who also have acquired brain injury, developmental disabilities or histories of extreme violence or current aggression.

“At the time of our audit, there was no understanding of the size of these populations, or a provincial strategy for ensuring these patients would receive the services they need,” the report said.

And these gaps are compounded by a lack of available services for patients ready for discharge, including access to housing.

“Accountability doesn’t rest alone with the health system,” Bellringer said, adding partnerships are needed with other agencies.

Bellringer recommended that the Ministry of Health set a province-wide direction and enhance collaboration with health authorities.