Access to Mental Health Services and Pilot Project Proposal

Question Period: MLA Sonia Furstenau



Trancript


S. Furstenau: Current data ranks anxiety and depression as the sixth leading reason people visit their primary care providers, and that was before COVID-19. As we discussed on Monday, a mental health shadow pandemic looms.


With heavy workloads and rapid patient turnover, GPs cannot be expected to carry the burden of the mental health crisis alone. To get additional psychological care, as the minister noted yesterday, people often have to pay out of pocket, and even then, mental health treatment is poorly integrated into our universal health care system, leading to worse with heavy workloads and rapid patient turnover, GPs cannot be expected to carry the burden of the mental health crisis alone. To get additional psychological care, as the minister noted yesterday, people often have to pay out of pocket, and even then, mental health treatment is poorly integrated into our universal health care system, leading to worse outcomes and higher costs.


We can't wait for the federal government to solve our problems when there are solutions available to us in province. Because every dollar spent on mental health care saves our medical system at least double that, one solution is to better integrate primary care psychologists into primary care clinics. Despite their mental health expertise, psychologists are currently ineligible to provide their services through MSP.


My question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Will the minister work with her colleagues in Health and Finance to create a 12-month pilot project that would allow psychologists to work alongside primary care physicians and be eligible providers through a government-funded billing system for consultation and psychotherapy?


Hon. J. Darcy: Thank you to the member for her questions, and thank you for the opportunity to talk about our government's work in this area, both to support people through COVID-19 but also to build a system where access to mental health care and addictions care does not depend on the size of your bank account, which is very much the legacy that we have been left. We're not waiting for the federal government. We believe they need to step up to the plate, but we're not waiting for them. And that's why we were very excited to partner with Dr. Lutes and the B.C. Psychological Association early on in the pandemic, where they stood up 250 psychologists to support people who are struggling with mental health issues. We also partnered with Canadian Mental Health Association B.C., with Foundry B.C., and with 49 community agencies across the province to whom we've provided funding to be able to provide no-cost or low-cost counselling to thousands of British Columbians.


We know how important this is because all of the surveys and the polling indicate that the pandemic has had a significant impact on people's mental health, and it will continue to. That's why I spoke about an echo pandemic earlier in the week. Nearly half of British Columbians report that their mental health is worsening. And so that means that we have focused programs to support people who are working on the front lines of health care. It's especially having an impact, also, on young people and on seniors. And we're working right now in our ministry on what further supports we need to provide for people who are struggling with mental health issues. We're hearing from many of our partners, including the B.C. Psychological Association, and we look forward to further discussions in order to make decisions about what we need to do going forward to support people through this pandemic and beyond.


Mr. Speaker: House Leader, Third Party on a supplemental.


S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister's response. However, a patchwork of programs and services is different from integrating mental health care right into our universal health care system, which is what we're advocating for. As Dr. Lesley Lutes, professor of psychology at UBC Okanagan and executive with the B.C. Psychological Association, has advised, funding this pilot project would truly begin to change the way that we treat mental health in our province.

The project itself is not entirely untested in Ontario. A group of psychologists and family physicians secured funding that established a practice model based on collaboration between family physicians and psychologists, and over a 12-month period the data collected showed impressive results.


We all hope to build back better after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. To do that, we must prioritize everyone's mental resilience. My question, again, is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Given our concurrent physical and mental health pandemics, can we expect this government to review this 12-month pilot project proposal, which, in addition to greatly helping patients, could also help us transform our health care system into one that encompasses both physical and mental well-being?


Hon. J. Darcy: Thank you again to the member. The House Leader for the Third Party knows very well my commitment and this government's commitment to get to a place where we have equity between physical health and mental health.


We certainly welcome the proposal from the B.C. Psychological Association, and we will be engaging with them further, as we will be engaging with a number of our partners who also have proposals. Absolutely, we need to go beyond the kind of system that we inherited that is very much a patchwork system. That's why we intervened very quickly as a government when the pandemic hit and we will be engaging with them further, as we will be engaging with a number of our partners who also have proposals.


Absolutely, we need to go beyond the kind of system that we inherited, which is very much a patchwork system. That's why we intervened very quickly as a government when the pandemic hit. Within two weeks, we stood up programs, worked with the B.C. Psychological Association but also worked, very importantly, with Foundry B.C., which we're expanding to 19 locations across the province. Thousands of people have accessed those services. The Canadian Mental Health Association — we've significantly expanded support to them over the past few years and supported them to stand up virtually, and they have reached thousands more people than they reached before.


We have a new 24-7 advanced student help line for students in post-secondary education that never existed before in the province. Programs like Confident Parents, Thriving Kids, delivered by CMHA, are reaching more people than they ever have before. And we have a really, really solid project happening with SafeCare B.C., CMHA and front-line health care workers and their unions to ensure that people on the front lines, who have been bearing a lot of the brunt of this, including the mental health impacts, get the support that they need. And just this week we opened the Royal Columbian Hospital Mental Health and Substance Use Wellness Centre, a significant addition to the continuum of care for mental health and substance use.


We've got more announcements to come in the coming days that I know that both the opposition and the Third Party will welcome, I'm sure. We look forward to hearing a positive response to those upcoming announcements.


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