Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health and Addiction Services – 04 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mental Health and Addiction Services

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, this being Mental Health Week, I expected to hear more government announcements on progress implementing the recommendations from the Valuing Mental Health report, including those on first responders, given that this is the anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire; also on extending funding for the central Alberta regional collaborative service delivery model; and on more timely access to opioid treatment clinics. To the Minister of Health. Sixteen months have passed since the report was accepted. Can you give us an update on the progress made on the 26 remaining recommendations?

The Speaker: The hon. Deputy Premier.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the important question. We are continuing to make good progress, and we look forward to being able to give a fulsome response in the coming days. Even without being able to do the full update in short order, I want to assure everyone that we are continuing to move forward with opioid replacement therapies throughout the province. A great deal of the funds that we received from the federal government to help us address the opioid crisis was funnelled directly to that so that increased opportunities for methadone and Suboxone closer to home are available throughout the province. As well, we continue to work on addictions and treatment options in communities, including a number of detox beds.

The Speaker: Thank you.

Dr. Swann: The regional collaborative service delivery model has proven to be the most efficient and most effective provider of mental health services to children and families. It’s a clear improvement over previous fragmented approaches. A Red Deer mother of a child with special needs is concerned that this funding cut will lead to longer waits for therapy, poorer outcomes, and an increased burden on teachers as they attempt to fill the gap. Again to the minister: will you reinstate the regional collaborative service delivery funding, and if not, why not? This should be expanded, not cut.

The Speaker: The Minister of Advanced Education.

Mr. Schmidt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m pleased to answer this question on behalf of the Minister of Education. Of course, we believe that every child in Alberta, including those with special needs, deserves an education that prepares them for success. That’s why our government is working to make life better by improving classroom education for all children by hiring new teachers and teaching assistants and investing over $12 million more this year in inclusive education for students with special needs. It’s important to note that since the RCSD model was introduced in 2014, funding for delivery has actually increased by over $8 million, to over $67 million this year. We will continue to do everything we can to support students with special needs in our classrooms.

Dr. Swann: That hardly explains the cuts to the Red Deer program. Opioid users are seeking help, and often they cannot book during regular business hours. These Albertans require expanded access to treatment clinics, and wait times outside of our two major cities must be shortened. Clinics should meet the needs of people seeking services rather than those providing the services. In other words, services need to be patient centred. To the Minister of Health: will the government commit to reducing wait times and expanding after-hours access to services?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. These are the exact kinds of things that the associate minister has been working on, and we appreciate the recommendations and the support from the member opposite. Earlier this week she was in Lethbridge working at meeting with front-line service providers in terms of harm reduction and making sure that increased supports are available there. They also raised a number of other issues that they’re hoping to move forward with in collaboration, including supervised consumption services, potentially, as well as increased access to other harm reduction strategies in the community. We look forward to being able to support all Albertans and save lives.