Services for adults with eating disorders across the province are delivered by health authorities with one exception – Island Health. For some inexplicable reason those services are delivered by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
For years, the services have been inadequate but during the pandemic the situation got much worse.
Members of my constituency have been advocating for better services and have continually been denied the answers, and the help, they need.
This is a critical situation that needs to be addressed. The Minister read out a prepared response to my questions and referenced funding that is not applicable on Southern Vancouver Island.
The Minister failed to provide confidence that the programs would improve.
The structure of outpatient eating disorder programs on Vancouver Island is unique in B.C. and shrouded in secrecy. In all other regions of the province, programs are administered through health authorities. Yet the South Island eating disorders program is delivered by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. This program has held responsibility for treating children, youth and adults struggling with eating disorders since the mid-1990s.
During the pandemic, despite surging demand, the program cut adult services, including counselling, dieticians and psychiatrists offering adult clients a monthly phone call and access to a few online groups. It simply isn’t enough. Two years after the start of COVID-19, patients continue to confront a new complete termination of treatment, due to staffing shortages and funding issues.
This policy has left countless adults without access to vital services who continue to struggle daily. My question is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. Why is her ministry tasked with treating adult mental health disorders on southern Vancouver Island?
Hon. M. Dean:
Thank you to the member for the question. We do know that eating disorders are a very serious mental health issue, and they do benefit from early intervention at the earliest stage possible. And we know how difficult it is to access services as well.
As with many other mental health issues, during the pandemic we have seen an increase, unfortunately, in these types of disorders. We’ve responded to this increased need by working with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and health authority partners and contracted agencies and partners, as well, to make sure that we can support integration across the continuum of eating disorder services. We need to make sure that the most vulnerable populations receive services, so the priority populations that have been focused on have been children under the age of 19 and adults with acute presenting issues as well.
We’re increasing the number of clinicians. We’ve recruited two clinicians into the program. We were able to provide support to adults. Where there had been a temporary suspension, they were able to complete their programming. An eight-week program had been provided that did provide coping skills and nutrition as well.
We will continue to assess and adjust the service as the staffing levels are adjusted as well.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.
The response is simply not good enough.
The question was not provide a laundry list of actions that my guests, clearly, are in disagreement with. They’re coming to my office seeking support, because this provincial government continues to let them down. The question was: why is it that the Ministry of Children and Family Development is dealing with adults who are suffering from mental health crises and eating disorders?
We have a Minister of Health. We have a Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. On southern Vancouver Island, curiously, it is the Ministry of Children and Family Development that is standing up and answering this question.
With all other local resources running over capacity, and patients in need being confronted with lengthy wait-lists…. This goes for all resources: adult mental health services, such as psychiatric and case care work; general practitioners; and tertiary services at St. Paul’s in Vancouver. The only services immediately accessible are emergency medical services. Even then, we’ve heard consistently over the last number of weeks how long wait-lists are in ERs and wait-lists for urgent and primary care centres and wait-lists for walk-in clinics.
Adults who are struggling with eating disorders cannot access timely evidence-based services when they’re faced with these lengthy wait-lists. Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness. When people in crisis are refused urgent care, it is quite literally a death sentence.
The advocates who are here today wanting an answer, because they haven’t been able to get it any other way, have been seeking answers to this question that I asked previous and this question for years.
My question, again, is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. When will full services, including individual counselling and dietician services, be re-established for all adults seeking help for eating disorders on Vancouver Island?
Hon. M. Dean:
Many years ago, when the service was created, it was decided that in order to provide a seamless service, that the service would continue to be available to adults aged over 19, really thinking about the transition of those children and young people who had been receiving services in the clinic and for them to have that seamless transition to make sure that they’re supported into a healthy adulthood.
I’ll just add that our government has actually announced a $6.6 million investment to expand eating-disorder services and supports, and that includes peer supports, as well, and to make sure that there is more timely access for the kind of care that we know that people, British Columbians, need. This included supporting regional health authorities to hire more staff to expand existing eating disorder services and funding to the Looking Glass Foundation for Eating Disorders to support increased access to virtual-peer services and people living with an eating disorder.
The situation here on the south Island is continually under review. As we recruit more staff, we’ll be able to adjust services.