Dr. Patricia McGarry Roberts talks Northern health careThursday, February 28, 2013 by: SooToday.com Staff
SooToday.com received the following letter from faithful reader and practicing psychologist, Dr. Patricia McGarry Roberts, in response to Brenda Grundt's letter outlining her father's struggles with Northern Ontario healthcare.
Dear Editor, Soo Today
I read with empathy and sadness the letter to the editor this week by Brenda Grundt regarding her struggle to access health care in the North for her father in treating his cancer and for other family members.
As a private citizen, parent and daughter of a father who died of cancer 10 years ago after months of pain, trying to secure cancer treatment in Sudbury and empathizing with the overworked oncologists and nurses here in SSM I am sad to hear that the state of affairs continues.
I am also well aware of the timeliness of the arrival Premiere Wynne and her cabinet this Friday in Sault Ste. Marie.
I want to also add, that as a practicing psychologist in Sault Ste. Marie now for over 20 years, unfortunately it is also the case that access to other forms of health care resources, specifically mental health care in Northern Communities is also a struggle.
It is common for me to hear from patients as far as four hours away who do not have access to adequate mental health care in their communities and are trying to find ways to secure appointments and services as near as they can, in larger centres such as Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, etc. because those services are not within distances close to home.
In winter months they brave cold temperatures, snowy driving conditions and possible road closures to get basic care and assistance.
Often they must pay out of pocket to do so as many mental health services, including those provided by psychologists in Ontario are not covered by OHIP.
The public in North America is also coming to know that mental and behavioural health is as important to people's overall physical health and quality of life.
For example emergency room and primary care services are significantly over utilized by patients with physical symptoms such as chest pains, dizziness, headache and back pain which do not have an organic basis.
These symptoms are often caused by disorders such as anxiety and depression.
We know from clinical research that these patients benefit from psychological treatments such as counselling and psychotherapy.
We also know that individuals and their families who are struggling with other diseases such as cancer, heart disease, etc. also must deal with the psychological and social aspects of those illnesses, often without direction or support.
In the US, parity of funding between mental health and physical health services has been enshrined in the Mental Health Parity Act since 2008.
This act ensures private insurance companies provide adequate levels of coverage for mental health and addictions services compared to surgery and other physical conditions.
In Canada the move towards parity between mental/behavioural health and addictions services with physical health is based on the burden of disease (e.g. Institute for Clinical Evaluation Sciences [ICES] 2012 study).
The Mental Health Commission of Canada recommends that that mental health and addictions funding move to nine percent of total health funding in each province and territory over 10 years, a gradual but meaningful plan to address underfunding.
Many of my colleagues in Ontario are moving their efforts towards meeting with members of parliament, raising public awareness and advancing the dialogue to improve access to health care and in particular mental health care in Ontario.
Some of our suggestions include allotting new money and already budgeted funds need to be directed to mental health services.
We need to ensure also that these services reach all people, no matter their location, socioeconomic status, culture, etc.
These goals are all outlined on our provincial association website.
We want to promote the strengthening of Family Health Teams with the inclusion of psychological services.
We encourage the reducing wait times for psychoeducational assessments and services in our primary and secondary schools.
We are focusing on the expansion of the scope of practice of psychologists to include prescription privileges for psychotropic medications.
We support more ready access to psychological services through motor vehicle catastrophic impairment services and workers compensation programs to assist all Ontarians who have experienced serious accidents involving brain injury or which require diagnosis and treatment for accompanying psychological issues and disorders.
We want to address the short supply of psychologists in Ontario by supporting the increase of the number of doctoral training programs (PhD and PsyD) and residencies in Ontario.
We need to develop a psychological services plan for seniors delivered in their homes or through seniors facilities related to neuropsychology assessments for cognitive deterioration (e.g. dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease) and clinical psychology assessments for depression, anxiety, behaviour problems etc.
These assessments will help family caregivers and staff better understand and support the patient in realistic and helpful ways as well as reducing the strain on family care givers.
As a practising psychologist in Sault Ste. Marie, and as a private citizen I'd like to promote the awareness of these needs not only in highly populated parts of Ontario but across the North.
I believe that health care providers want to provide care to all residents of Ontario.
Psychologists want to raise public and government awareness of the struggle that Northerners face in accessing health care - all forms of health care.
I welcome Premiere Wynne and her cabinet to Sault Ste. Marie this week.
I am hopeful that they recognize the gem that is Northern Ontario and raise efforts to keep us healthy and enjoying high quality of life.
Dr. Patricia McGarry Roberts
Sault Ste. Marie
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