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When youth from the district need more care for mental health issues, they're supposed to be sent to a stabilization unit in Thunder Bay. However, the CEO for the North West Integration Network, Laura Kokocinski, says the beds allocated for the region may not be available.

"The regional health sciences centre currently receives funding to support a four-bed inpatient child and adolescent mental health unit, for children up to 16 years of age living with acute mental health issues," she said in an email.

"Patient volumes in the unit often exceed capacity, and in overcapacity situations, children are admitted and cared for in the pediatric inpatient unit," Kokocinski added.

Executives in the health system say they're aware of the gaps, when it comes to youth in crisis, and they're taking measures to try and fill them. Kokocinski outlined these measures in a recent email.

kokocinski   lauraLaura Kokocinski of the North West Local Health Integration NetworkFor example, she says they're working with multiple partners to ensure a comprehensive continuum of mental health and addictions services, such as crisis response, counseling, case management, supportive housing, psychiatry and withdrawal management.

She added the network also has a multi-pronged strategy, and they're working with multiple partners to ensure clients with mental health and addictions needs receive safe, quality care at the right time and in the right place.

In her email, Kokocinski also noted the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the North West Local Health Integration Network primarily provides mental health resources through hospitals, Aboriginal Health Access Centres, mental health and addictions agencies and other providers located in municipalities.

In Kenora, a youth crisis response committee, which includes a number of organizations in the District of Kenora  -- Abinoojii, Kenora Chiefs Advisory, Firefly, Dryden Crisis Response and Lake of the Woods District Hospital -- has been responding to the youth crisis in the District of Kenora by providing after-hours services for children and youth with a 24-hour hospital based service responding to youth in crisis In the interim, the CEO noted.

Early in the year, Kenora-area mayors and First Nation leaders announced they were moving towards more cooperation, in an effort to improve health care. This reflects the province's desire to save health care costs through integration, as part of their Patients First policy.

Late last year, the Minister for Children and Youth Services, Michael Coteau, also talked about the need for partnerships and integration, when it came to closing gaps in the child welfare system. His comments followed a troubling report on the gaps in the system.

When it comes to services to indigenous mental health services, the provision of mental health resources within First Nations is primarily done through Health Canada First Nations Inuit Health Branch, Kokocinski noted. However, recognizing the immediacy of needs in many communities, Kokocinski the North West Local Health Integration Network and Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have assisted in the following ways when crises occur:

  • Direct funding has been provided to various communities for increased counselling, youth safety patrols, and service coordination for youth and families in crisis.
  • The North West Local Health Integration Network actively maintains contact with communities and service providers to respond to declared states of emergencies due to mental health crises. For urban Indigenous persons, the North West Local Health Integration Network depends on communication from stakeholders and health service providers to understand capacity issues.

Since 2007-2008, the province's child advocate, Irwin Elman, has been lobbying for better supports for children in care, especially those from indigenous families.

In the Kenora area, families have been asking for a response from the regional coroner, regarding the death of 14-year-old Azraya Ackaby Kokopenace, who passed away near the hospital last spring.

First Nation chiefs would like to see coroner's inquests become mandatory, whenever a youth in care dies.

In addition, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s Health Equity Branch has been working with the child and adolescent health unit to fund a proposal enabling the continuation of programming to address ongoing operating pressures, the CEO noted.

Due to recent crisis in northern communities, Kokocinski acknowledged a number of youth have recently been admitted to the child an adolescent health unit, and the hospital has increased resources accordingly to meet this increased demand.

For more information:

Ontario reintroduces legislation to further improve patient access and experience

Services board to discuss Patients First health care reforms

Health care hubs to combine aboriginal, mainstream

Health unit balks at merger with hospital boards

Minister pledges reforms for children's mental health

Ontario Auditor General's Report - Child and youth mental health

Ministry of Children and Youth Service - Moving on Mental Health

National distress line to offer culturally-appropriate supports

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