BY MIKE GIRARD
Wait times for non-urgent adult mental health services at the South Shore Regional Hospital are trending upwards again.
According to the data published on the Department of Health and Wellness's "Wait Times" website, the SSRH sits in the middle of the pack of 13 hospitals being tracked.
The upward trend is sobering for a region that was previously hailed as having the shortest wait times in the province for non-urgent adult mental health services as recently as 2016.
However, Carla Adams, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said in an emailed statement that the department's website "doesn't provide accurate data."
"Currently, wait time information on the Nova Scotia Government Wait Times website includes information about individuals who have already been triaged to be most appropriate for community-based care and the time to their first follow up treatment appointment," wrote Adams.
"Patients that have been triaged as being in urgent need of service are not included in the data listed on the 'Wait Times' website.
"Individuals who are in urgent need are being seen urgently ... usually seen within seven calendar days".
Based on the publicly available data on Department of Health and Wellness' own website the minimum wait time to serve 90 per cent of individuals seeking adult mental health services sat at two and a half months as of September 2017 (the last available data on DHW's website).
This is still a far cry from where wait times stood in 2013 when the minimum amount of time for individuals waiting for services stretched to nearly five months.
Current wait times are now longer then they were in 2016 when clients could expect service within a month and half, sometimes less.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority concedes that the amount of time people are waiting for service continues to be a challenge in the province.
"Wait times around the province, including the South Shore, continue to be a priority for Nova Scotia Health Authority. We know that individuals are waiting too long for service and we are committed to making improvements in this area," wrote Adams.
A series of reforms brought in by Todd Leader, the former Director of Community Health Services for the now defunct South Shore Regional Health Authority, produced the much hailed reduction in wait times for adult mental health services in the region.
Leader has since published a book about his experience detailing those reforms: It's Not About Us.
Leader acted as Director of Community Health Services between 2012 and 2015. His reforms began to be introduced in 2013.
"We did a number of things from an administrative perspective, small changes, but they produced significant gains for clients, including significantly reduced wait times from as much as eight months to one or two months and sometimes much less," said Leader.
"At every point where an administrative decision had to be made we asked ourselves a simple question: is this good for the client or are we doing it because it's convenient for the system? If it wasn't putting the client first, we changed it."
At the time the province's nine health authorities were largely autonomous and could establish their own management priorities. In 2015, the McNeil Government amalgamated the province's health authorities into the singular Nova Scotia Health Authority.
Asked if the amalgamation could have impacted wait times in the region, Leader refused to speculate, but did say that "differences in management philosophy could be impacting wait times, but so could increases in the amount of people seeking help."
The Nova Scotia Health Authority is currently working on overhauling the way mental health services are provided, and reducing wait times is a key component of its 10 year strategy, Together We Can.
An update on that work, Milestones on Our Journey, was published in 2017. Addressing wait times is listed as a key component of the overall strategy.
"Provincially, we are streamlining our registration and scheduling processes to support new provincial mental health and addictions wait time and triage levels, wrote Adams. These changes will provide us a more accurate picture of services and wait times through better tracking and reporting."
Adam's said revised data on wait times will be available in August 2018.