I was the manager of Edmonton’s largest homeless shelter for men the last time the Alberta government closed beds at the Alberta Hospital. In 1994, before closing 200 beds, all the right things were said. The Tory government, Ralph Klien at the helm, was going to fully support the transition of patients into the community. Support systems were going to be in place. Community placement would go smoothly, patients would be looked in on regularly and would end up happier and healthier because of their new found sense of independence. But it didn’t happen. Within a couple of weeks we had dozens of mental health patients, having lapsed with their medication, ended up on the street and were inevitably brought to our door. At our shelter they were assessed by Boyle Health clinic nurses and then, often enough, found themselves waiting for a bed to open up back at the Alberta Hospital. In the mean time our staff did the best we could to care for them. But a homeless shelter is no place to keep patients who need specialized mental health care.
If these closures go ahead, the same thing will happen. We are being assured that supports will be in place. But I don’t see how. I actually support a proper integration into the community of people living with mental health challenges. But to do this right I believe actually requires, not less, but more resources. The current government is making this social-welfare decision upon the sterility of a balance sheet.
And today we hear that Dr. Patrick White is stepping down from his position with Alberta Health Services as regional clinical director of mental health services. He says this has nothing to do with his outspoken concerns. But please!
White in recent weeks voiced serious concerns that adequate community services are not yet in place to enable patients to move out of the aging psychiatric hospital in the city’s northeast. He has also been adamant that the overstretched mental-health system cannot afford to lose acutecare beds.
But then the real issue is not whether White was forced, enticed, or self-directed toward his new position; the issue is adequate care for vulnerable people, for those who cannot care for themselves.
As a society we are judged by the way we treat vulnerable people. The Tories systematically fail to understand this. They are short-sighted, reactive, and in this instance either willfully cruel or ignorant. And there is no excuse for ignorance here.