Psychiatric services added to Prince Rupert

The staggering amount of suicidal cases at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital has led to the inclusion of two psychiatric liaison nurses

Andrew Lee

The staggering amount of suicidal cases at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital has led to the inclusion of two psychiatric liaison nurses.

The emergency room was seeing approximately 180 suicidal presentations a year, said Chris Melenberg, a team led at Northern Health Mental Health and Addictions in Prince Rupert.

In 2014, the Ministry of Health provided $2 million in matched funds to each health authority to strengthen services for individuals with severe addiction and/or mental illness, otherwise known as  the SAMI population.

Northern Health directed approximately $180,000 from the funding to create the full-time positions starting this September.

“Because they’re seeing there are just so many presentations for suicidality Northern Health thought it would be nice to have a nurse that has a little more of that specialty and to do some of the counseling in the moment and link to services,” Melenberg said.

The psychiatric liaisons will provide consultation in the emergency department and patient care floor.

Suicide rates are 25 times the national average among the indigenous populations and northern regions of the country. The B.C. Coroner was unable to provide updated statistics on the Northwest in time for publication.

Hiring the psychiatric liaison nurses for the Prince Rupert hospital is one way to buoy the mental health system in the city, but Melenberg explained that there’s a bigger picture to consider.

“If we don’t have great jobs here in town, we have a lot of minimum wage jobs and professional jobs but not a lot in the middle. There’s not a lot of homeless support. Those kinds of things play into the factors. Often times when people are suicidal it’s a lot of situational factors,” he said.

Canada has a patchwork of strategies for handling suicide, which was highlighted in a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial released earlier in September.

The article stressed the need for a national suicide prevention strategy. The article stated that countries that had implemented a government-directed strategy by 2011 saw suicide rates decrease.

While there is no consistent strategy in Prince Rupert, Northern Health does offer several community services in the city, including a crisis response unit, short-term counseling and long-term case management and culturally safe addiction counseling through the Friendship Centre. There are also two rooms in the hospital dedicated as a safe place to keep people short-term if they have been deemed suicidal and need extra care.

Angela Szabo, the director of acute care services for Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, said having the psychiatric liaison nurses is a new program for the hospital.

“In Prince Rupert, we’ve long recognized the need locally to build on the care continuum of services for our community and this includes doing so in partnership with others. When we became aware that this funding was available we made sure that we moved forward in partnership,” she said.

The psychiatric liaison nurse can’t write prescriptions but they can do assessments and help doctors make decisions on what to do or what not to do, Melenberg said.

As of Sept. 6 the psychiatric services run from Monday to Friday. Once the second nurse has been trained there will be coverage at the hospital seven days a week by Oct. 29.

“I think it’s helpful too because ER is where the higher risk people will go and staff don’t have that specialty necessarily. Maybe they’ve taken a course or two in mental health but they don’t often times know. This will help make things more consistent in the future,” Melenberg said.