Dr. Swann in Question Period on the Mental Health Patient Advocate – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Monday I raised concerns about how each year the Mental Health Patient Advocate office’s work increases but the resources do not. The 2015-16 annual report yesterday revealed a significant increase in caseload, yet it was only able to initiate one formal investigation in all of last year. Same staff count as 1990. The associate minister recognized the importance of the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s role but pointed out that funding in Budget 2017 will stay the same. Why isn’t the minister backing up her words with action?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the hon. member for the question. As we discussed on Monday, the Mental Health Patient Advocate is a very important position, and we are actively recruit-ing to fill that role. We also need to make sure that we’re improving access to mental health supports for Albertans so that we can help diminish some of that caseload work by making sure that we’ve got services available to Albertans when and where they need them. I am proud to say that Budget 2017 is delivering on that promise.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, this is about funding for the mental health advocate.

The commitment to new funding to implement the mental health review is promising. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s inability to do formal investigations for people calling for help. Since 1990 the number of people has tripled, the number of issues has quadrupled, and investigations continue to take more time due to complexity. Why is the govern-ment allowing this situation to continue by not properly resourcing the advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I said, we are very proud of the work that the mental health advocate has been able to do on behalf of Albertans, and we will continue to support that role and that office. We are also ensur-ing that we are able to expand access to services, working in the community and with mental health practitioners both inside and outside of Alberta Health Services as well as partners within the community. That is one way that we’re working to make life better for Albertans.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, we’re not talking about Albertans in this case. We’re talking about a mental health advocate that has no resources to do her job.

One of the most interesting items in the 2015-16 annual report is the fact that the mental health advocate’s office did not use its entire budget last year. It seems odd given the advocate’s 2015 remarks that there was a critical lack of resources. I understand that approval is required to fill vacant positions and get additional staff even if the funds are available. To the minister: did the government impose last year a hiring and spending restraint on the advocate’s office, and if so, why?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Our government has implemented hiring restraint measures across government, ensuring that when positions become vacant, they are being filled when they are critical to the role and to the work of government, including implementing our mandate. A huge part of our mandate is ensuring that Albertans have access to the mental health supports that they need. It is a reality that recruitment takes time and that for these important positions we want to make sure that we are filling them with the right person so that we are able to help make life better for Albertans.