Hay River residents who want to see a mental health counsellor are stuck on an eight month wait list.
MLA for Hay River North R.J. Simpson called these wait times ‘ridiculous’ and ‘inhumane’, adding his efforts to raise the issue haven’t been heard.
“During my time as MLA, I have raised concerns about the availability and accessibility of mental health services in Hay River at every opportunity, but those concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears,” he said February 22nd at the Legislative Assembly.
“The wait time to see a counsellor in Hay River is more than two-and-a-half times longer than in Yellowknife, it is eight times longer than in Behchoko and it is 20 to 30 times longer than in Fort Smith, which is just down the highway.”
Simpson pointed out that appointments are available for urgent situations and those facing ‘mental health emergencies’ are meant to be seen within a month.
During an exchange with Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy, Simpson said he meant no offense and knew the department was listening. “I know the department listens, I know the authority listens, but I need to see some results.”
Abernethy described staffing issues as the main cause of long wait times. Half of the community counsellor positions are unfilled, a full team is six counsellors. The clinical supervisor position is also vacant, but Abernethy says interviews are happening for the position this week.
“Hay River certainly has the longest wait times and they are certainly feeling the brunt of this,” Abernethy admitted, adding the territorial health authority is offering its expertise and support to the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.
For the 55 clients on the wait list, Abernethy says they are being offered programming from ongoing group counselling services.
“The health authority is recommending that anyone who needs mental health support and is not able to be seen through the existing counselling program to come to the health centre or go to emergency if it is an urgent situation,” Abernethy says.