Although the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant changes to how Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) Mental Health and Addictions staff have provided services, care has continued to be available throughout urban sites.
“We were always open; we were always accessible,” said Colleen Quinlan, executive director of Mental Health and Addictions, Integrated Urban Health, with the SHA. “We have continued to provide care, but in a different way.”
Ensuring people have access to services has been the prime focus of the Mental Health and Addictions team.
Quinlan said the department has looked for ways to be innovative. When group sessions couldn’t continue in person, Mental Health and Addictions began offering them on Facebook. For example, in May, about 500 parents and others who wanted more information on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder took part in information sessions streamed live over Facebook.
Gwen Roulette, a Mental Health and Addiction clinician, provides remote counselling to young clients using the video conferencing tool Pexip.
To support clients living in the community with their mental health needs, many Mental Health and Addictions staff began providing virtual appointments over the secure online platform Pexip.
In-person care has continued to be available throughout the pandemic where virtual options are unsuitable.
“All community outreach has continued. We are providing care over the phone as well but, when needed, our outreach team provides in-community visits, while following all protocols for PPE (personal protective equipment) and social distancing,” said Quinlan.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, inpatient units have had capacity for those needing urgent and emergent mental health care.
“We continued to have psychiatric staff available in emergency. As much as possible, inpatient mental health services have remained comparable to pre-COVID levels.”
The number of brief and social detox beds was reduced to ensure safe care could be provided, she added.
Brett Williams, a Mental Health and Addictions clinician, shows the book I Miss You to a young client using the video conferencing tool Pexip.
In recent weeks, as part of the province’s phased service resumption plan, Mental Health and Addictions has begun to resume in-person and therapeutic/day programming, while ensuring all appropriate COVID-related precautions are in place. This includes providing small group programs that respect the size of gatherings allowed by public health orders, resuming regular hours for harm reduction programs and gradually increasing the number of in-person appointments.
While Quinlan said the pandemic is far from over, this event is resulting in changes to service delivery which may be maintained indefinitely.
“Some clients have said they like virtual care because the technology is user-friendly. If they have children, they don’t need to arrange for child care; or where transportation is a barrier, they don’t need to find a ride.
“There may be an opportunity for a new way of doing business that provides a balance, allowing us to offer services in-person for those who prefer that way of receiving care while also offering a virtual option to those who find online services more compatible with their lifestyle.”