The Cold Lake Healthcare Centre was recently able to purchase some new equipment thanks to a donation from the Hearts for Healthcare Foundation.
A new set of wall-mounted, folding parallel bars and a functional electrical stimulation unit were bought for the hospital’s rehabilitation department.
The parallel bars are used to assist patients with regaining their balance and walking abilities.
The new bars can be folded away to allow for more flexible use of the limited space in the rehabilitation department while being mounted to the wall for patient safety.
The functional electric stimulation unit uses an electric current to stimulate and reactivate muscles that are no longer working well.
It is often used with patients who have had a stroke or brain injury and are experiencing muscle weakness on one side of their body.
By helping to reactivate the affected muscles, some patients experience improvement and are able to start using the muscles again.
As the muscles grow stronger, patients can begin to re-learn walking skills and are able to use their hands for self-care activities such as brushing their hair and teeth.
The new equipment is in now in use at the site.
Hearts for Healthcare is a registered charity, running separately from Alberta Health Services administration and governed by a volunteer board. Its goal is to improve the quality of health care in Cold Lake.
Cold Lake Sun readers expressed concern about the limited access to Cold Lake doctors and other medical professionals in Cold Lake, such as psychologists.
We asked the 10 city council candidates if there anything they feel the city could be doing more of when it comes to this issue.
Larry Ashcroft: To attract professionals to our community, we need to make the city attractive for doctors and their families. We need to create a good work environment with proper resources and equipment, and amenities in the community. Remember, the new doctors have spent several years in the city (for their training). I think the community, with the support of the city council, has been working hard at this.
Bob Buckle: This issue of lack of family physicians and specialists has plagued our community since I have been on council. As a mayor and council, we have had multiple meetings and discussions with the Minister of Health, the Alberta Health Services Executive, doctors and hospital staff over the years. All are acutely aware of the situation; however, few improvements have been made. Though this is outside the mandate and authority of city council, we have over the years supported the start up of the Hearts for Healthcare, which have done great work trying to recruit new doctors into our community. It will likely make it harder to recruit and its something we as municipal leaders will need to pay close attention to.
Chris Hiebert: Supporting existing organizations, like “Hearts for Healthcare, will go a long way, but the issue goes far beyond their scope. City council will need to be actively engaged with the provincial government to secure further funding to recruit and hire qualified healthcare professionals.
Lorie Jacobsen: We need to keep yelling. I encourage our citizens to keep writing to the provincial government. This issue is close to my heart and we need to keep supporting Hearts for Healthcare as our best advocate. As we continue to develop our city we become more attractive to those professionals. I want to work with council to find ways to improve access now, not later.
Duane Lay: I will work with city administration and Hearts for Healthcare to lobby Alberta Health Services to fund more doctors and medical specialists. We would like to work towards Cold Lake becoming a regional medical center.
Vicky Lefebvre: We (the previous city council) are working with Alberta Health Services, Hearts for Healthcare and community services to try and address this problem. We understand the need and have been lobbying for help. (Psychological) services are provided through our Family and Community Support Services and Alberta Health Services and some non-profits. There is not a quick easy fix and nothing works quickly with the government. It is a sometimes frustrating and takes a lot of patience. No pun intended. There is a line to be drawn as to how much a city should fund and whose responsibility is it. With government downloading costs to the city where do we stop?
Kirk Soroka: Healthcare is a provincial matter, so the first thing we need to do is be a loud and persistent voice in the legislative assembly to ensure our needs are clearly understood. Secondly, we need to incentivize these medical professionals to invest in the community and establish roots here. This can be done by helping them set up practice through financial tools like subsidized rent, operating leases for equipment, zero interest loans and municipal tax credits for limited periods of time. We want to entice doctors by removing all of the initial barriers that prevent them from moving to Cold Lake and staying in our community. The worldwide competition for healthcare professionals is fierce. We need to make a serious commitment.
Chris Vining: We (the previous city council) have worked very hard with both our local doctors and Hearts for Healthcare to see what we can do to make Cold Lake a destination for more doctors and healthcare professionals. I think we have been very successful in helping bring more diagnostics and other services that people used to have to travel to obtain. Mental health access has been a frustration of mine in both my role as an educational leader and a community leader. There is a gap that Alberta Health Services doesn’t seem to have the will and resources to fill. However, there is also a role for federal government to get involved seeing as we are hearing about more former Canadian Armed Forces members in our community struggling with PTSD, for example. We need to continue to lobby the province and Ottawa to come together to create a Cold Lake solution.
At Alberta Health Services, our patients are at the centre of everything we do.
That extends to patients who have broken a leg, or require heart surgery, and it extends to people caught in the midst of a mental illness.
So, when we read about the experiences of Andrea Head-Lahey and Jeff Bentley at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre, we were naturally concerned.
Nobody should leave any of our facilities or services feeling unsupported or alone.
Mental health is a significant priority for AHS. We take it seriously, just as we take any other form of healthcare seriously.
That is as true for the patients we see, treat and support in our major centres, as it is for our patients in rural areas, such as Cold Lake.
We continue to work extremely hard to break down the stigma of mental illness, and this extends to our physicians , staff and volunteers.
We know how difficult it can be for anyone to come forward and seek help, and when they do, we must listen to them, assess them, and ensure they are connected to the most appropriate mental health resource.
We must all be on the same page – mental illness is serious, it is real,and we must all be prepared to talk about it openly and productively, to help those caught in its clutches.
And, we need to recognize that each person and their situation is unique, that every journey to better health will be different, and note that experts are available to help them get the care they need, when they need it.
We are aware of concerns regarding mental health services in the Cold Lake area, and we know we need to improve the linkages between the services we offer, so that they are better integrated and easier to navigate.
A critical part of that is making every effort to act on input from clients and caregivers, as well as embracing input from the community.
We will be meeting in the next few weeks with local stakeholders, including municipal leaders, to listen to their concerns, and better explain what services and programs are available in the community, as well as what we are doing to improve healthcare in the area.
We take any feedback seriously, particularly when it comes from our patients and clients.
Their input helps us ensure we have the required supports and programs in place, and also helps us build the skill of our healthcare providers who may not specialize in mental health, but play a role in helping guide a patient through the healthcare system.
We have an amazing care team in Cold Lake, including adult therapists, a child therapist and an intake worker. The local Primary Care Network also provides mental health supports through their social worker.
Psychiatry services are available as needed, through physician referrals. Telepsychiatry is also available, depending on the patient’s care needs, which helps to increase access to specialists in rural areas.
Emergency room staff face constant pressure to work both quickly and efficiently. While a doctor is working on one patient, another could have come in with severe
asthma, a burst appendix or worse.
Unfortunately, staff time with individual patients in the ER is limited, which could lead to bedside manner seeming abrupt.
The stress hospital staff feel is met with patients’ stress, as a visit to the ER is never enjoyable. A patient may be in pain, psychotic, bleeding and/or just plain exhausted, not to mention that they might have been in the waiting room for hours.
Under such circumstances, a patient might see a doctor’s tone as harsh, even if such a tone wasn’t intended. Stress can lead to heightened sensitivities by both the doctor and the patient.
Emergency exam rooms are not spaces for exchanging pleasantries.
Doctors who work in the ER are generalists. They have to know a little about a lot. If specialized knowledge is required, they refer to specialists, which is why Cold Lake patients may be sent to Edmonton if their condition is beyond the scope of what a local doctor can provide.
Psychiatric patients, if their lives aren’t in immediate danger, get referred to Cold Lake’s Mental Health Services, which is open during regular business hours, Monday to Friday.
If the patient comes into the ER outside those hours, he or she is going to have to wait.
Anyone who has ever had a mental health crisis knows how miserable it can be, especially when help is delayed.
In a perfect system, where resources are limitless, Cold Lake would have a 24/7 acute psychiatric care team made up of psychologists, psychiatric nurses and social workers with a direct line to a psychiatrist.
If a patient came into the ER at 2 a.m. with suicidal ideation, but with no real plans to kill his or her self, a doctor could refer the patient to the acute care team for immediate further help.
Detailed mental health assessments can take up to an hour, which is far beyond the amount of time an ER doctor has to spend with a patient.
The reality is that the system in Cold Lake is not perfect.
A doctor, working in an under resourced hospital, must discharge the patient when deemed safe to do so and refer them to Mental Health Services.
In the ER, it’s not that physical medical problems automatically trump mental health conditions, but in an emergency setting, if there is no immediate threat to life and the patient can be managed in the community, then the emergency bed they occupy must be made available to other urgent cases coming in.
Sometimes an ER doctor doesn’t even have time for sensitivity or empathy.
That is the reality of emergency services.
Again, an acute psychiatric care team would be the solution. But how would it be funded and how would enough staff be recruited to operate it?
Being able to provide adequate mental health services to Cold Lake residents is a very multifaceted problem.
Cold Lake’s challenges are not unique.
Even larger Canadian centres find their medical facilities under staffed and under funded.
It should be a psychiatrist tweaking a person’s psychiatric medications because such a specialist knows those medications in and out.
Having a psychiatrist double check a nurse practitioner’s or general physician’s prescription is important.
However, even in cities like Winnipeg, a patient can wait up to a year or more to see a psychiatrist, and so general physicians and nurse practitioners are left to do their best in the meantime.
When an ER doctor doesn’t have the time to spend with patients, regardless of bedside manner, which is subjective anyway, a clinically depressed patient may very well feel defeated like Andrea Head-Lahey did when she sought help in the ER over the Labour Day weekend.
A patient might feel the doctor, lacking in time and having to be dismissive, did the equivalent of putting a gun in the patient’s hand and saying “do what you have to do,” like Head-Lahey said, because the doctor is not able to provide the patient with the immediate help that is being sought.
Such feelings are not the fault of the doctor who is only part of a larger system that is failing mental health patients in Cold Lake.
Head-Lahey’s words are sharp and they certainly may sting those who work in the mental health field. It must be particularly difficult for the doctor who treated Head-Lahey that day to hear that she felt he failed her.
People become doctors to help patients. So, it is likely disheartening when the system medical professionals work in don’t always allow them to do that well because of the lack of resources.
The story about Head-Lahey’s experience, and her feelings around it, is important.
Stories like these should be a wake up call to those who have the power to fix the system. People are hurting and providing adequate mental health access needs to be moved up the priority list of government officials and other policy makers.
When medical professionals on the front line hear stories like Head-Lahey , maybe it will inspire them to think of ways they can improve their patient care, as everyone always has room for improvement.
A doctor’s tone, body language and word choice may impact a patient’s ER experience. And, when a doctor feels his or her mind is 20 places at once, that is the time to remember to focus on the patient he
or she has before them. Really listening goes along way for mental health patients. Sometimes all a patient is looking for is reassurance.
Addressing mental health care access is a complex problem.
In the meantime, as Head-Lahey said, those who have mental illnesses should not be discouraged if an ER doctor doesn’t have adequate time for them. It shouldn’t stop them from reaching out to other resources, like the 811 Health Link number or another ER if necessary.
Eventually a patient will get to the top of a waiting list to see a psychologist or social worker in Cold Lake.
Help is out there, but until a mental health patient is able to access it and begin to manage his or her illness, life can be anguishing.