Plans for new youth mental health program at Royal Jubilee Hospital veiled in secrecy

A child psychiatrist for Indigenous people attributes the changes to ongoing reporting by Capital Daily

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Plans for new youth mental health program at Royal Jubilee Hospital veiled in secrecy

Photo: Jimmy Thomson / Capital Daily

Dr. Jaswant Guzder often has a difficult time finding the right place to send her patients. Oftentimes the only available option is to place young people in the same units as adults.

But a recent encounter with staff at Royal Jubilee Hospital offered hopeful information: Dr. Guzder, the sole psychiatrist for Indigenous Child and Youth mental health services on the South Island, was told about preparations for a new dedicated ward for adolescent inpatient mental health services.

The new ward would be  a step in the right direction, according to Dr. Guzder—one that she attributes to Capital Daily’s recent reporting about mental health care at the Royal Jubilee Hospital, and the teen advocates who spoke up about the lack of adequate emergency psychiatric care.

“I, as a physician in the community, would say that I am really pleased that the Jubilee Hospital is interacting with your stories, and is making plans to have a dedicated inpatient unit that does not have adults mixed with youth,” Dr. Guzder said.

“That’s what journalism really should be about—information that helps people make things better. Even though it doesn’t work, and it’s still broken, and it’s still appalling, at least the right people are starting to feel uncomfortable.”

Capital Daily has repeatedly covered the state of psychiatric services in Victoria and the damage it has caused to vulnerable people over the past two years—from Nina Grossman and the Capital Daily Podcast’s coverage of the grassroots initiative to uncover patient mistreatment at the Jubilee Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) unit, to Zoë Ducklow’s reporting on the lack of progress after these issues were brought to light, to Martin Bauman’s story of a man who died by suicide after he was told to “take back your autonomy” by the psychiatrist who discharged him from PES.

To Dr. Guzder, changes within the system at Royal Jubilee Hospital is a direct impact of this journalism. However, questions remain about the implementation of the changes she was told about.

Vague and undisclosed plans

The prospect of an inpatient adolescent unit was also brought up by Tasha McKelvey, the region’s clinical director of Acute and Crisis Mental Health and Substance Use, at a presentation hosted by the Victoria Hospitals Foundation in early November.

There, she and Dr. Sean Spina—the director of Special Projects at Royal Jubilee Hospital—announced that the hospital would be opening a new ward, similar to PES but for young adults aged 17 to 26 years old, sometime in the new year.

The presenters were not available to answer Capital Daily’s questions about the unit, despite repeated requests to Island Health.

Questions to the health authority about the timeline for this new unit, the number of patients it can accommodate, and what will differentiate it from the adult ward, achieved similarly unfruitful results. According to the health authority, this will “not be a new unit,” but a vague and undisclosed plan has been hatched.

“The plan is to formally cohort young adults together in one location to improve care and services for this population,” Island Health said in an emailed statement.

McKelvey and Dr. Spina also said patients weighed in and informed what mental health services at the Jubilee should look like in the future, through a “stakeholder engagement” process.

Island Health, when asked about this process, said the results are “not yet available publicly.”

This amount of secrecy from the health authority is not uncommon, as Dr. Guzder and other healthcare workers have told Capital Daily over the years.

The absence of information about what services are in the works and when they will be implemented leaves unanswered questions, with clues strewn about in disjointed places.

For example, the provincial ministry of mental health and addictions just announced the expansion of Y-STAR teams—healthcare workers and support staff doing outreach work for young people with substance use issues—earlier this month.

They did not specify where the new teams will operate out of, but the teams field calls from local emergency departments, community services providers, schools, and Indigenous groups. It is not known whether this expansion will be a part of the Jubilee’s new inpatient program for young people.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Guzder and other readers have noted, the impact of continuing to seek answers and uncovering the impact of inadequate mental health resources in Victoria is a tangible one.

“Your article actually seems to have done something,” she said. “They’re feeling the pressure.”

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