Bonnyville pioneering mental health care for children & adolescents
The Town & Municipal District (MD) of Bonnyville were given praise on their ongoing efforts to better the care of patients with mental health issues, says Mayor of Bonnyville Gene Sobolewski. “We’re essentially, in the Province of Alberta, pioneers in what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time.”
The Town & the MD recently helped fund and establish a unique position, a Child & Adolescent Mental Health Navigator. The position became active in June 2016, and since then has been instrumental in improving the care and attention of youths’ with mental health issues. Navigator, Alena Thompson explains, “since June 7th, our first clinic, we’ve had over 80 referrals from kids in the Bonnyville area.” Of those 80 cases, Thompson says nearly half were stabilized, set up with the support they need and discharged. While the remaining children’s care is ongoing.
“We’ve had some good successes,” a lot of the success lies in being able to better refer patients care and more in house training, services and programming available. The navigator’s role is knowing what programming, services, and care is out there and getting the patient to that care as soon as possible. “Setting up care, a lot quicker. Some kids in six weeks, compared to months and months, while you wait for this appointment or that appointment,” Thompson explains the grand effort put in by all the human services agencies in and around Bonnyville is instrumental in ensuring patients are receiving timely care. “Having the school, the doctor, and the therapist right, literally at the same table, has saved months for some of our kids.”
Mayor Sobolewski says the navigator and the clinic are unique, “there’s nothing like we have elsewhere in rural Alberta. There’s a lot of interest and focus on the navigator. It’s really garnered some attention.”
“My role is for the child & adolescent care,” Thompson helps with discovering what the patients needs are and how to best direct them to receive the proper care. “Working with the schools, AHS mental health therapy. We have a group of doctors and a nurse that have taken extra mental health training, to manage ADHD, anxiety and depression, in the primary care setting. Rather than sending everybody off to psychiatrists; which are few and far between.” By having these services and extra training in Bonnyville, many patients receive more timely care and attention.
“We worked with FCSS, very closely in the fall, and Lakeland Catholic to help bring some parent support groups with a group of physiologists, out of Cold Lake, to give some evening parent information session,” the sessions were another way to help the youths, explains Thompson. “They were very successful. We’re looking at bringing in more of those, to give parents even more support.” Plans are to work with schools so that more programming and assistance is available, right at the school. “They have great programming, already, it’s just how we can work together to make it even better.”
It’s not just child & adolescent mental health care that’s improving, says Thompson, “Reggie Jackson is the manager for Addictions & Mental Health, for this area, for Alberta Health Services. He’s been working really hard, with all aspects of mental health; not just the child & adolescence. I’ve been working with that too, with all the human services agencies in town. How we can better communicate and collaborate, to make mental health services better, for all age groups.”
Removing the negative cogitations and talking about mental health issues as a part of everyday conversations is the ultimate goal, says Thompson, “make it a chronic disease, make it a normal part of conversation, make it okay for a child to ask for help. So that they do, and they get it. Making everybody more comfortable with the conversation. The ultimate goal is to get to coaches and aunts & uncles, and anyone that kids are in touch with on a regular basis… like businesses that employ teenagers. So that they can see something in a kid and say, ‘are you okay?’. Give the community the skills to know what questions to ask and know where to send children of any age, so they are being taken care of.”
“It’s been the leaders in our community, that are so passionate, that are making this possible.” Thompson praises the efforts put forth by the Town & the MD, “not only have we never heard ‘no’ from the Mayor, the Reeve, or the three school boards, but anytime we ask for support, they are enthusiastic and fully behind this clinic and the direction that it is going.” The clinic has taken off very quickly, says Thompson, “and they’re behind us, supporting us, completely.”
If you’re reading this article and you or you suspect a child/teen in your life may need help, contact Alena Thompson 780-815-1534.