New mental health ER opens its doors in Saskatoon

Health authority says seven-bed unit will be calmer, more private space

The new temporary Mental Health and Assessment Unit at Royal University Hospital on April 27, 2018. (Don Somers/CBC News)

Mental health patients who need emergency care now have a new place to turn in Saskatoon.

Instead of waiting in line at the regular emergency room, patients at the Royal University Hospital now have a dedicated ER specifically for people suffering from mental health issues.

“There is more privacy here. People can have a conversation, family members can be with their loved ones,” said Tracy Muggli, the Saskatoon director of mental health and addictions for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Some families have likened RUH’s existing secure mental health areas to jail cells and have called for improvements in triage facilities for those suffering mental health crises.

One of the seven beds in the new mental health emergency room at Royal University Hospital on April 27, 2018. (Don Somers/CBC News)

The new seven-bed unit has dimmer lights, separated rooms and is painted in more soothing tones. Most importantly, Muggli said, it’s away from the chaos that sometimes surrounds the regular ER. She said there were horror stories of mental health patients simply leaving the ER without treatment because they couldn’t take it.

“That can be very agitating for people who have maybe anxiety or depression so we needed to have a space where is quieter so that people could be able to wait in space but also get treatment in a more timely manor,” Muggli said.

The health authority estimated 5,000 people arrive at RUH each year suffering from mental health emergencies. Roughly 10 per cent leave before a doctor can assess them.

Permanent unit being built

Despite a $1 million donation from philanthropists Leslie and Irene Dube, the new unit almost didn’t get built.

It was originally scheduled to open last fall, but last summer, construction on the unit was put on hold, in limbo for months because the province wouldn’t commit to staffing the facility.

But Muggli said thanks to some budget rearranging within mental health and addictions and the existing emergency department, the new unit will be staffed by two nurses 24/7.

One will be a trained psychiatric nurse and the other will be an emergency room nurse.

Patients who need emergency mental health support will still need to go to the regular emergency room before getting transferred to the new unit.

The health authority says this will only be a temporary unit for now.

A permanent mental health emergency unit will open late in 2019, alongside a revamped emergency department at the new Pattison Children’s Hospital.

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