“That doctor may as well have put a loaded gun in my hand . . . and said ‘do what you have to do,” said Andrea Head-Lahey about her recent experience at the Cold Lake Health Care Centre emergency room.
Head-Lahey, who was diagnosed with clinical depression, went to the ER, hoping to get some help when she was at a low point with her illness. However, the doctor she saw was not sympathetic.
“He kept interrupting me,” Head-Lahey said in a public Facebook video that has been making it s way around Cold Lake.
“And if you’ve ever been in that kind of position, where you already feel like an idiot. You’re embarrassed. You don’t want to be there, admitting, hey, I don’t want to live anymore. And to have somebody be so abrasive with you, it makes you feel 10 times worse.”
Head-Lahey said the doctor told her to immediately stop taking the medication that her family nurse practitioner had prescribed her. Head-Lahey, however, was hesitant to follow the doctor’s advice since he wasn’t as familiar with her medical history as the nurse practitioner she sees regularly. (Like many residents of Cold Lake, Head-Lehay doesn’t have access to a family doctor so she sees a nurse practitioner instead).
When she questioned the doctor’s plan, she was told to call mental health on Tuesday. Head-Lahey had gone to the emergency room over the Labour Day long weekend and Mental Health Services at the Cold Lake Health Centre is only open during the week from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Mental Health Services not ideal
Jeff Bentley, a local mental health advocate, said the hours of the Mental Health Services should be extended to include weekends and evenings.
“But there is not enough staff. There are not enough doctors. There are no psychiatrists,” said Bentley, who has been lobbying the government at all levels to improve Cold Lake’s mental health care services.
Bentley said the location of Mental Health Services is also a problem.
“There is no privacy. It’s right off the main elevators on the second floor, so when you go to check in, someone you know might see you.”
Bentley who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the first Gulf War, has had his own issues accessing Mental Health Services in Cold Lake.
He had been receiving counselling from a social worker at Mental Health Services and was able to manage his symptoms from the disorder with his counsellor’s help.
Bentley had gotten himself to the point where he only had to see her every six weeks.
“To me, that was like my security blanket,” said Bentley. “I could look in the calendar if I was having a rough time and be like: “Okay, I will be getting help on that date.”
But, out of the blue, a manager from Mental Health Services, based out of Bonnyville, reviewed Bentley’s file and decided Bentley was managing well enough on his own.
“I couldn’t see my counsellor anymore because someone who had never met me decided I couldn’t,” said Bentley. “It didn’t matter what my own councillor thought.”
Since then Bentley has been advocating that improvements be made to Cold Lake’s health services.
He received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work with veterans in the mental health field.
As for continuing to manage his own symptoms of PTSD, Bentley works with a psychiatrist in St. Paul and receives counselling support over the phone from another psychiatrist in Red Deer, which is less than ideal.
Although Bentley has been able to make due with what is available, he said there are others who are struggling. Over the last two years, Bentley has had two friends commit suicide.
Limited counselling services in Cold Lake
Out side of the Mental Health Services in Cold Lake, there are two private practice councillors available at Supporting Wellness Psychological and Family Services that operate out of the Family and Community Support Services building.
But some people, especially those with limited extended health benefits through an employer, find private practice fees prohibitively expensive, as they can be more than $150 per hour.
Military mental health screenings to come to Cold Lake
Because of the limited health services in Cold Lake, the Canadian military deems Cold Lake as semi-isolated.
In order to be posted to Cold Lake, military members and their families have to have their medical files reviewed for any serious issues that cannot be treated in Cold Lake. They also have to meet with a social worker to assess their mental health.
Depending on the family member’s mental health condition, the military member and his or her family may be denied a posting to Cold Lake because of the lack of mental health services within the city. Such a decision can be career limiting to the military member.
Mental health works not available for suicide prevention discussion
FCSS organized a candlelight vigil to remember those lost to suicide on Sept. 10.
This was done to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.
Most of the participants had lost someone to suicide, and one woman had tried committing suicide herself. As a result, she was clinically dead for 30 minutes before being revived.
Organizers wanted to have a mental health worker present to facilitate a supportive discussion with the participants following the vigil, because remembering a loved one to suicide can bring up intense feelings, but no one was available to facilitate that discussion.
Instead, participants were referred to a series of “Living through Grief ” workshops the FCSS was hosting later in the fall.
Head-Lahey said the service she received at the Cold Lake emergency room broke her.
“I cried,” said Head-Lahey. “(The doctor) said, I can’t help you, if you don’t want to help yourself.
“He pulled back the curtain, and I’m sitting on a bed, crying, feeling defeated and so embarrassed and he just walked away. It was a low point.”
Head-Lahey said she left the hospital in a bad state.
Her husband, who was sitting in his truck out in the parking lot waiting for her, wanted to drive her to another town so she could see a different doctor. But Head-Lahey didn’t want to go.
“This doctor planted the seed of doubt in my mind that I was over reacting and that no one could do anything for me.”
811 Health Link number offers help
Head-Lahey called Alberta’s 811 Health Link number instead and talked to a nurse.
“She listened and she was patient,” said Head-Lahey. “She got all of my information that I had tried to get out (to the doctor before).”
The nurse told Head-Lahey she was right in going to the emergency room and that she should go to another town’s hospital. But by the time Head-Lahey had gotten off the phone with the nurse she was feeling well enough again to go home.
“If I was diabetic and I would have said my insulin isn’t working, I would have been taken seriously (by the emergency room doctor),” said Head-Lahey. “He would have found a way to help me.”
Head-Lahey decided to make a Facebook video because she felt that her experience in the emergency room needed to be spoken about.
Since she posted the video, two weeks ago, it has received almost 7,000 views.
A tearful Head-Lahey tells viewers “If you ever feel like you need to reach out and you muster up the courage and the energy to reach out and say ‘I need help,’ please don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it on the first try.
Keep trying. Keep reaching because someone will care.”
Emergency room best practices
A suicide risk assessment requires nonjudgmental questioning by a health care professional to allow them to gain insight into a patient’s thoughts and feelings, according to “Suicide Assessment in Hospital Emergency Departments: Implications for Patient Satisfaction and Compliance,” an article published in Topics in Emergency Medicine journal.
Emergency room doctors need to consider a patient’s current suicidal thoughts and intentions, intensity of depressive systems, recent life stressors, any past suicide attempts or a family history of suicide and many other factors, says the article.
While Head-Lahey felt the doctor didn’t listen to her, he did prescribe advice similar to what most medical professionals would give.
If a patient doesn’t have suicidal intent, a doctor’s next step would be to evaluate for psychiatric disorders, prescribe medication and refer the patient to counselling, according to “Evaluation and Treatment of Patients with Suicidal Ideation,” an article in American Family Physician journal.
If a patient has clear suicidal intent, he or she will likely be hospitalized.
Bentley has made some headway with his political advocacy on mental health issues.
He was able t o connect with Alberta Health Services and he may be allowed to sit in on a soon-to-be-formed mental health advisory group.
He has also been working with local MLA Scott Cyr to get the attention of the provincial minister of health Sarah Hoffman.
Bentley has been collecting stories about people’s experiences with Cold Lake’s Mental Health Services.
“It can be good or bad experiences. We need to know what is working and what isn’t,” said Bentley.
Bentley forwarded Head-Lahey’s video to MLA Scott Cyr.
Kevin Nagoya, the chief administrative officer of theCity of Cold Lake, has also seen the video.
Catherine Garon, the site manager of the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre, said she couldn’t comment on the mental health services provided in Cold Lake.
She said resources are allocated by Alberta Health Services.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) is warning women to be aware of “misleading telephone calls” from a man who reportedly asks women to conduct breast exams while on the phone.
AHS said eight woman in the Edmonton, Barrhead and Athabasca areas have come forward to say they received a phone call from a man who claims to be from a medical imaging facility.
The caller reportedly relays breast screening exam follow-up information and tells the women a breast self-exam must be conducted while on the phone.
AHS said while it may phone patients to discuss a mammography appointment, it will never ask a patient to conduct a self-exam over the phone.
Anyone who receives a phone call like this is asked to immediately hang up and take down information regarding the call, like the time it was made and the phone number, if available. They are then asked to phone their local police department’s non-emergency complaint line. Complaints can also be filed with AHS’ Screening Program Client Support Line at 1-866-727-3926.
The City of Cold Lake discussed attraction and retention of doctors in Cold Lake at the corporate priorities meeting on May 16.
Mayor Craig Copeland is hoping to setup a meeting with seniors from Alberta Health Services (AHS) regarding the physician-patient ratio in the City of Cold Lake.
According to physician statistics, rural Alberta has about 130 physicians per 100,000 population in 2015.
Coun. Chris Vining did a quick math at the meeting to figure out Cold Lake numbers -- a community with about 15,000 people served by 12 doctors currently.
“That puts us at 80 per cent [of] 100,000. So I think the rest of rural Alberta is in a way better position than we’re in. They have 40 per cent more doctors per capita than we have right now,” he said.
Agenda documents from the City of Cold Lake stated the City has 12 doctors with one additional physician on extended leave.
Coun. Bob Buckle said he doesn’t understand how other communities are able to attract and retain doctors while Cold Lake isn’t quite doing the same.
“I know Hearts for Healthcare has been raising a tremendous amount of money and over the recent years the focus has been hospital foundation related stuff,” said Buckle.
The Cold Lake Sun confirmed with Hearts of Healthcare there is a doctor coming to Cold Lake in June and another in September. Both doctors are family physicians and the organization is working to get a full time OB-GYN to Cold Lake along with another family physician. The City of Cold Lake, however, is losing one doctor over the summer.
CAO Kevin Nagoya said new doctors are coming to Cold Lake, but the problem is retaining physicians in the community.
“New doctors and physicians have come in but the same amount has left as well and that’s one of the challenges,” he said.
Nagoya pointed out to a 2002 Physician Retention in Rural Alberta report by the Alberta Rural Physician Action Plan. The report indicates the degree to which physicians feel welcome in a community and the collegial working atmosphere are two key factors in physicians’ decision to stay in a community.
“If that’s what’s the decision making [entails] and it’s in the report then one of those are falling off the rails,” said Nagoya.
Copeland said one of the subjects of discussion with AHS will be hospital privileges.
“Can docs come to Cold Lake and do they need to have hospital privileges? Can a person come in and operate and doesn’t need hospital privileges? So there’s these questions that need to be entertained,” he said.
Pickleball courts request
The City of Cold Lake has been receiving requests from the pickleball community of Cold Lake to incorporate pickleball courts.
Administration discussed various options for the City to incorporate dedicated pickleball courts in Cold Lake.
CAO Kevin Nagoya said the City has tennis courts budgeted for 2017 but not pickleball courts and letters from the pickleball community keep coming in asking for dedicated space for the growing sport.
Options included converting current rinks in north and south of Cold Lake or tennis courts to pickleball courts as a pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court.
General Manager of Infrastructure Services Azam Khan explained outdoor rinks can be converted for pickleball by resurfacing with plexipave surfaces which is a regular court surface and can still be flooded in the winter.
Currently, the Cold Lake Energy Centre has six pickleball courts and the curling rink at Cold Lake Golf and Winter Club can accommodate about six indoor pickleball courts.
For more information, read City serves up new surfaces for sport courts here
Dr. Sieg L. Heydenrych who delivers competent, safe and courageous care to moms and babies and shoulders the responsibility of the obstetrical program, was the winner of the Healthcare Excellence Award this year.
It’s no secret health care practitioners in rural Alberta keep busy handling various responsibilities. Two of the health care professionals in Cold Lake were awarded at the annual Hearts for Healthcare gala.
The Nurse of the Year award went to Joanne Brady who has dedicated more than 35 years of her life at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre. She is known for managing several departments and performing surgeries and still taking calls at all hours of day and night.
Every year, Hearts for Healthcare asks for nominations in both categories to announce winners at the gala. Anyone in the health care community of Cold Lake can be nominated for the Healthcare Excellence award as long as they work in the health care field locally.
“So someone who works in the kitchen at the hospital all the way to the doctors so anyone in the health care field can get nominated for that,” said executive director Theresa Nickel.
Dr. Heydenrych was nominated for his dedication to patients and families in this community. In his many roles as general practitioner, emergency room physician, anaesthesiologist and surgeon, he faces a busy work schedule with very few complaints.
In particular, he was nominated for the depth of his commitment to the obstetrical program at the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre. Due to his leadership and tireless efforts, the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre’s Obstetrical program is the leading Obstetrical Program in rural north zone.
Dr. Heydenrych stepped up and rested almost the entire obstetrical program on his shoulders after the previous physician left around June 2016.
Nurse of the Year, Brady, is known as the rock of the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre. She leads by example and has the respect of everyone in the building and she mentors young nurses.
“It was a real honour, just an honour to be recognized by colleagues. It was humbling to be honoured,” she said.
Reminiscing the time when she first started working, she said she was very young and was afraid of her own shadow.
She does not know who nominated her and is OK with it.
Eight board members with the Hearts for Healthcare receive nominations for both awards and judge and select a winner each year.
The Hearts for Healthcare gala raised about $30,000 within minutes for the pediatric scope at the Cold Lake Hospital.
The organization needed to come up with the money for pediatric scope during the Hearts for Healthcare gala on May 6.
The MC for the evening, Danny Hooper, decided to do a cash appeal and within minutes many came forward with donations.
At first, he asked attendees for $5,000 and only one came forward. But soon after, he asked for people to come forward with $1,000 each and within few minutes 22 people came forward leaving them short of $3,000 at the end to reach their goal of $30,000.
“He had announced we needed $3,000 more and a woman in the audience donated it,” said executive director Theresa Nickel.
The gala is the biggest fundraiser for Hearts for Healthcare and the money is used to make healthcare enhancements in Cold Lake and to attract doctors to the community. In the past, money raised from the gala has been used to purchase a CT scanner, furniture for three offices for mental health department, three cardiac monitors for in-patients and ER, electric bed for continuing care and therapy department along with other equipment and supplies.
As a result of $30,000 that was raised this year, Hearts for Healthcare will buy a pediatric scope. The total money raised from the evening was not available in time for the press deadline.
Nickel confirmed there is a doctor coming to Cold Lake in June and another in September. Both doctors are family physicians and the organization is working to get a full time OB-GYN to Cold Lake along with another family physician.
The City of Cold Lake is losing one doctor over the summer.
The organization has a physician incentive program to attract more physicians to the local area by competing with other communities. The organization provides a $20,000 package to new physicians and the money helps them settle in the community.
“We pay for upto three months rental of a house, three months rental of a car, we do their first month clinic fees, things like that just to help them get started because a lot of our physicians are coming from outside the country,” she explained adding doctors who come here may not have any income in the first few months.