There were some articles in the London Free Press this week about Emergency Rooms in London being overwhelmed with the Mental Health crisis facing Canadians. I found myself feeling frustrated with the topic and the comments left on line after the articles.
The article was talking about the treatment of Mental Health patients seen in emergency at the London Health Sciences Centre. Some were left in a room by themselves or sleeping on the floor or sitting in a hallway for hours or days. A young woman who had been there 10 hours waiting for help, asked for some juice and was told it wasn’t possible because the nurse was too busy to worry about that. I’ve seen elderly patients lay in emergency for hours with nurses rarely checking on them and never around to get them anything if they needed it. I am sure some people end up leaving emergency dehydrated that didn’t come in that way.
Many of the comments seemed to be that emergency departments are there to deal with physical illness, not mental illness and they are somehow less important. If Emergency Departments now are meant for physical illness then dedicate an emergency room to mental illness, have staff that are there to meet the needs of mental illness patients in crisis. Canada loses over 3700 individuals a year to suicide (according to Statistics Canada http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/hlth66a-eng.htm) not to mention other deaths that have mental health components such as eating disorders. A person goes to the emergency room because they are in need of help. Comments mentioned that they should be treated outside of ER. Yes in an ideal world that would be true…all those bacon and egg addicts who are in ER for heart attacks or smokers there for lung issues or daredevils there to fix broken bones and accidents that could have been prevented should remember that too. Nobody questions a diabetic for coming to ER with medication issues causing life threatening issues but those with a mental illness are given multiple prescriptions that affect their brain and yet if they have issues it is somehow viewed as their fault or less important than other patients.
There is a mental health crisis in Ontario and we should re evaluate the way our Emergency Rooms deal with it. Staff needs to be compassionate and listen to what the issues are…that can’t be done sitting behind the nurses station updating your Facebook Status or talking about the last staff get together. Staff need to be trained to provide actual care. If the staff in Emergency are too busy to sit and comfort a patient in crisis then we need to build a model and hire the staff to do so. A family that is facing a loved ones mental illness is having an emergency, a crisis…just like the family that is there for a loved one who had a stroke. If emergency rooms had Compassion Staff we could stop the need for return visits occurring so frequently because we could offer support on the first visit.
Yes, there are a lot of resources out there, but when you are not shown how to access them, and just told to deal with it while you are already feeling overwhelmed with life is not helpful. Compassion staff could help set an outreach plan into action instead of sending a person out the ER door feeling more frustrated and hopeless than when they walked in. It would save money, resources and lives to put the investment into the staff and program of support and compassion now than to allow Canadians to continue to fall into physical and mental crisis.