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Updated: 8th January 2019 20:40

Prevention focus of 5-year mental health plan

The Alberta government is launching a five-year program to provide more help to the mentally ill and those dealing with substance abuse.

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky holds a copy of the province's new addiction and mental health strategy. (CBC)

Albertans who have mental health or substance-abuse problems will have their illness identified earlier and get treatment closer to home under a new five-year plan announced Monday.

This plan "represents a shift in how we're going to think about addiction and mental health, and how we're going to act to help," provincial Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky told a news conference at a north-end youth addictions centre in Edmonton.

"This plan lays out roles, actions, expected results, and performance measures for all the different ministries for all the different sectors and the community-based organizations."

The plan, he said, streamlines numerous programs and services currently spread among 16 government ministries along with front-line health department and community programs.

"It's all about ensuring a seamless delivery," said Zwozdesky. "It's all about ensuring access, so that people can receive the services when and where it is needed."

Getting help early

The blueprint document, Creating Connections, indicates the plan will focus on five areas:

  • Helping children before they become addicted or before their mental health issues become acute. Programs to identify troubled kids early already exist in schools,  Zwozdesky said, but they will now receive added resources to "more aggressively tune in to how we can provide even more help."
  • Adding more specialists in the fields of addiction and mental health specialists to front-line primary care teams of doctors and nurses.
  • Increasing decentralized, non-hospital programs and services to allow people to get help in their community, whether it's in an urban or a rural area.
  • Working with communities to ensure adequate housing is available for those who need specialized help.
  • Providing special treatment to more complex cases, such as people with fetal alcohol syndrome, those dealing with both mental health and addictions issues, seniors and those in trouble with the law.

The plan will also include goals and benchmarks to gauge progress.

Zwozdesky admitted the plan has been delayed for months. Initiatives such as new detox treatment beds in Fort McMurray and Medicine Hat were announced ahead of the plan, but he said that couldn't be helped.

 "Unfortunately we got caught up with a few theatrics and antics last fall which took time away from us," he said, referring to political fireworks around Raj Sherman, the junior health minister who was ejected from caucus for publicly criticizing his own government for lack of action on health waiting lists. Sherman is now leader of the Opposition Alberta Liberals.

Changing dynamics

The plan will be flexible given changing dynamics in areas such as seniors care, Zwozdesky said, noting dementia cases are expected to double by 2035.  "That will require a lot more supports, a lot more services 25 years out," he said.

About $1 million will be spent in the coming year to identify where the gaps are in service.

Guy Smith, the head of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, criticized the announcement for failing to address what will be done with acute-care treatment beds.

"Families and physicians see [he beds] as an integral part of the mental health support system," said Smith in a news release.

Zwozdesky said the blueprint is critical given that studies show mental illness affects one Canadian in five and directly affects the lives of their families and loved ones.

Articled from the CBC RSS Syndication CBC.ca - RSS Feeds Copyright is that of their respective owners (CBC) Calgary News Releases

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