Danielle says she can’t remember how many times she’s been to emergency departments getting stitches after harming herself or seeking help for bouts of sadness and anxiety.
“I’m on a merry-go-round where I keep getting reconnected to the same services that, frankly, have not worked in the past,” Danielle said.
“I feel like the only reason I’m getting any sort of attention is because I’m demanding it. I’m going to the hospital and I’m refusing to leave, and I’m just refusing to go away.”
The Calgary woman in her 20s has long suffered from mental health issues, but she says her condition was made far worse by a sex assault four years ago.
CBC News isn’t publishing her last name to protect her identity.
Acute care beds often full
Calgary emergency rooms are seeing rising numbers of patients with mental health concerns, sometimes spending days waiting to be admitted. According to the provincial health authority, it’s not unusual for Calgary’s roughly 200 acute care mental health beds for adults to be full.
In the 2017-18 fiscal year, Calgary area emergency rooms saw 30,000 visits from patients whose primary concern was their mental health, according to Alberta Health Services.
About 77 per cent of them were treated and discharged home and referred to community supports, if needed. The remaining 23 per cent were admitted to an inpatient bed.
“The vast majority of those patients received the care they needed, when they needed it,” the health authority said in a statement, adding it has opened 30 mental health beds in Calgary since 2015.
From April 2017 to March 2018, patients with mental health challenges spent an average of 18 hours in emergency departments, from the the time staff decided to admit them, to the time they were moved to the inpatient unit.
“We are sometimes feeling like the safety valve for the system,” Dr. Eddy Lang, head of emergency medicine in Calgary, told the Calgary Eyeopener last week.
“When there are insufficient beds upstairs for people who do need to come in, they often spend extended periods of time with us in the emergency department.”
Nowhere else to go
Danielle said she often ends up in the ER because she feels she has nowhere else to go. Her latest visit was a few days ago.
She had earlier been admitted to an outpatient program that offered therapy, counselling and help with coping skills. But she said she was ultimately turned away because she has a service dog, which helps her deal with stressful environments.
A nurse “gave me a list of phone numbers in Calgary of, like, Calgary Counselling Services, and sent me home,” Danielle said.
The next day, she tried to go back, but was again rebuffed.
“So I went to the ER because I didn’t know where else I was supposed to go,” she said.
“I just wanted someone to give me the help that I keep being promised but denied.”
Government gives $35M in grants
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman wasn’t available for an interview. In a statement, she said: “We know that access to mental health supports in Calgary and across the province has been a challenge.”
Hoffman noted the NDP government ordered a review of mental health and addictions treatment early in its mandate and later granted about $35 million to community groups to implement the plan.
Among the agencies that received funds so far is the Calgary Counselling Centre to expand its services, allowing an additional 1,100 Albertans to receive counselling. There has also been cash for suicide prevention and youth programs.
The independent review of the mental health system found “poor co-ordination and integration of services,” and a lack of collaboration between the Alberta government and the provincial health authority.
The report cited studies from 2012 and 2014 that found many Albertans reported at least one of their needs weren’t met when they tried to get help, and the most common complaint was they couldn’t get counselling.
Waiting on the wait list
Years later, Danielle said she has long struggled to find a therapist or psychiatrist who can help her.
Still, after her latest stint at the ER, she said a nurse is following up with her to make sure she’s doing OK while she waits to get into another outpatient program.
After sitting on a wait list for five months, she learned last week she may get a spot at the end of October.
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.