Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health Patient Advocate – 20 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, March 20, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Mental Health Patient Advocate’s office was established in 1995 to protect patients’ rights and improve the mental health system. Since 1990 the advocate’s work has increased exponentially, but the resources have not. In fact, it went from being an independent office with its own budget to recently being rolled into the Alberta Health Advocate’s office and sharing its funds. To the Minister of Health: if the government truly values mental health and rejects stigma and protects patients’ rights, why does it keep shortchanging the mental health advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I look forward to having an opportunity to engage in full budget discussions. One of the things that I’m so proud to make sure that everyone knows is that we’ve more than tripled the investment to make sure that addictions and mental health are addressed properly as we move forward. I’m incredibly proud of that. It’s my understanding that at a specific point in time following the floods in southern Alberta that office was created, but there have been considerations of how best to serve the people, and I look forward to having opportunities to continue that dialogue with hon. members.

The Speaker: First supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In her previous annual report the advocate said:

The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner . . . largely due to the loss of a position along with the Government . . . restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensive-ness of our investigations. As a result, the office was unable to conduct a single formal investigation of a patient complaint. To the minister: do you not see that chronic underfunding of this important office is causing it to fail to live up to its mandate?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Just to follow up on a piece of the earlier question, funding for the mental health advocate in Budget 2017 is consistent with last year. In fact, the advocate has been appointed on an interim basis during the recruitment process for a new person to fill that role. Our government is very committed to ensuring that Albertans are able to access the mental health supports that they need, regardless of where they live in our province. To that end, we’ve committed more than $5.6 million in new operating funds towards implementing the recommendations of the mental health review in addition to the funding that has been included to address the substance use crisis in our province.


Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the mental health advocate speaks for mental health patients who are not happy with the way that the system is working. Mergers seem to be the rage these days. Now even the NDP is getting into the act. When Carol Robertson Baker finished her term as mental health advocate, the government didn’t replace her; instead, the Minister of Health has simply merged the mental health and the Health Advocate, as I indicated. Apparently the government has no intention of empowering this office, which is odd given the increased complex-ity and the increased volume of cases we are now dealing with, especially with the opiate crisis. Clearly, the advocate needs independence and an increased budget . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to reiterate my answer from the last question. Currently the mental health advocate role is being combined with the Health Advocate on an interim basis. We are in the process of an open recruiting process, and we look forward to hiring a new person for that role. Frankly, we know that that is an important role within the system, and we continue to look for other ways that we can expand access to all Albertans. You know what? The only way that we can get there is by continuing to work together to increase funding for mental health.