A Parksville couple is calling on the provincial government to address a shortage of psychiatrists in the region and around Vancouver Island.
Susan and Gary McAlpine are long-term tenants in Parksville’s Riverbend Cottages & RV Park, where they moved to from Ontario about five years ago. The couple was enjoying retirement, travelling and attending concerts and Nanaimo Clippers games until suddenly their life was turned upside down.
Last August, Gary, 68, suddenly started becoming forgetful and quieter than his normal fun-loving self.
“He got progressively worse,” said his wife Susan. “Nov. 2 is when he became catatonic and I had to physically manipulate him out of our trailer… and I took him to the hospital.”
Susan took Gary to Nanaimo Regional Hospital where he spent six weeks being treated for severe depression and anxiety.
“They got him out of the catatonic state, that was a short thing, but obviously something traumatic has happened to him,” Susan said.
Susan and Gary were led to believe that once Gary was discharged from the hospital he would receive psychiatric care, but say they still haven’t received that help.
Island Health currently has one psychiatrist providing care in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region and another is expected to join the community in the coming months.
Susan said Gary will eventually see a psychiatrist at Oceanside Health Centre, but that could still take a long time.
“[Gary’s] not stable, he spends every other day in bed and he can’t function,” Susan said. “He’s had MRIs, cat scans, he just had a lumbar puncture, like a spinal tap. We’re overburdening our nurse practitioner because she is doing the job of the psychiatrist and it’s a vicious circle. I’m trying to get it out there that the government needs to do something.”
In an emailed response to The NEWS, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said a shortage of psychiatry specialists is an issue for communities across B.C. and Canada and is something Island Health is working to address.
“We can confirm Island Health has recruited a psychiatrist to join our team in the Parksville region and they are expected to begin working in the community in the coming months. However, a team-based approach is in place and can often provide the necessary care and supports,” said the ministry.
When a person is discharged from acute care with a mental health diagnosis, the ministry said that person may be referred to a community-based mental health team to support care led by an individual’s family doctor. If deemed appropriate, a referral to psychiatric care is made.
“If a person is placed on a wait list for psychiatric care, they may be offered a variety of case management supports in the interim,” the ministry said. “Those could include weekly support to help meet care goals, medication management, short-term counselling and group counselling. Every person on a wait list is offered the most appropriate supports and it is up to the individual whether they access those supports.”
Specific to the Parksville region, Island Health offers walk-in access to services for adults with moderate to severe mental health diagnoses at the Oceanside Health Centre Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Gary said on his bad days, which are every other day, he feels forgotten and alone. He said he feels sad because he knows he needs someone to talk to and who can help get his medications straightened out.
The B.C. government has recently launched a new initiative to help people experiencing mental health and addiction challenges called A Pathway to Hope. According to the provincial government, at the heart of A Pathway to Hope is a plan to begin transforming mental health and substance use care for children, youth, young adults and their families to reach them where they are — in their homes, communities and schools.
This will start moving the mental health care system from a crisis-based approach to upstream early interventions and begin to replace the current patchwork of services with wraparound services and supports.