A study estimated that the existing emergency department would be redesigned with a patient-centered triage process along with dedicated mental health and substance use emergency space and creation of a psychiatric stabilization unit.

Facing one of the highest numbers of mental health and addictions related emergency department visits in Ontario, the regional hospital is considering significant changes that could improve treatment and reduce the length of stay.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is in the midst of the planning stages for a mental health emergency service, which would provide a separate space for those patients to be assessed and receive care from a specialized professional team.

Dr. Peter Voros, hospital executive vice president of inpatient programs, said last year there were 6,300 emergency department visits related to mental health and substance use, an 11% increase from the previous year. Those visits account for as much as six percent of all emergency department patients.

Emergency Department

Currently, patients presenting with mental health and substance use issues in the emergency department are either left to wait in limited hallway space or admitted to the adult mental health unit. Voros acknowledged the needs of mental health patients are much different than those who are at the hospital for physical injuries or illness.

The planned changes, which would include what Voros described as a small build along with the renovation of existing space, would be noticeable for any patient when they first enter the emergency department.

Mental Health

Part of this redesign is to hopefully change our triage space altogether to make it more focused for all patients when they come, not just patients with mental health and substance use issues. Patients triaged as needing mental health, or addictions treatment would be directed to the new mental health emergency service, which would have a separate waiting room and specialized interdisciplinary team.

Another component of the overhaul would be the creation of a new psychiatric stabilization unit, where patients could stay for up to 48 hours under the care of staff while plans are developed for their release. That unit would be located adjacent to the adult mental health unit on the second floor with the conversion of existing office space.

Addicted Patients

There is a large number of patients who may not need a full admission to hospital but need some time to stabilize, to be assessed and for us to help get them to the community connections they need. Voros said the enhanced mental health services would require additional nursing staff, likely an addictions clinician specialist and continued psychiatry recruiting.

The process has already involved a fully functional program analysis of the emergency space and preliminary architectural designs. Hospital staff is expecting to meet with the North West Local Health Integration Network to discuss operational dollars, and an eventual application would be made to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for capital funding.