The exterior of a gray stone building with Abbie J. Lane Memorial written across the front.
Abbie J. Lane Memorial Building at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. Photo: Google Maps

Patients in the Halifax area in need of intensive mental health supports will soon have access to a mental health day hospital described as the first of its kind in Nova Scotia.

Brian Comer, minister responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, made the announcement during a media conference on Wednesday afternoon.

The facility is expected to open sometime in mid-April in the Abbie J. Lane Memorial Building at the QEII Health Sciences Centre at a cost of $1.4 million. It is intended for people experiencing “intense psychiatric symptoms” who don’t require 24-hour inpatient support.

Operating seven days a week, it will initially have a capacity of 10 patients per day. Comer told reporters the hope is to eventually expand to 20 patients per day.

“Currently, the only pathway to intensive mental health treatment is to be admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit. But not everyone needs around the clock hospital care,” Comer said.

“This hospital will address the gap and provide another way of delivering intensive mental health services while allowing patients to stay closely connected with their families and communities.”

Dr. Sanjana Sridharan, head of acute consultation and emergency psychiatry, Mental Health and Addictions Program with Nova Scotia Health, told reporters the day hospital will bridge a gap for patients who need intensive treatment but don’t require inpatient care.

She expects the day hospital to decrease the number of overnight hospital admissions and ease existing pressures on psychiatric units, emergency departments, and emergency health services “without compromising patient care or clinical outcomes” for people living with severe mental illness.

Admissions to the day hospital will come from community mental health clinics and emergency departments. People discharged from inpatient psychiatric care can also be referred to the day hospital for follow-up care.

“I think it’ll be a really good program for patients who are already connected with our outpatient system but need that intensiveness over a period of time,” Sridharan said.

“It’ll be really good for patients who are in our inpatient services, but cannot get discharged because it’s too soon and their medication still needs tweaking.”

Comer said patients at the new day hospital will be supported by an interdisciplinary team of mental health specialists. There will be therapeutic group programs and patients will receive individualized psychiatric treatment.

A smiling man against a white background wearing a dark suit jacket, white shirt and burgundy tie.
Brian Comer, minister responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health. Photo: NS Legislature

“It just offers a relief valve for the health care system in many ways. I think if you look at the research, about 20% of those folks in traditional inpatient units would actually receive the same outcomes from this service,” Comer said.

“So essentially, that creates 20% more inpatient beds. So it just relieves the pressure. And oftentimes, these individuals will be in emergency rooms for prolonged periods of time, so it is a cumulative effect on the health care system. I think there’s a real opportunity to relieve some of that pressure.”

While he didn’t have exact figures for how many people were hired to work in the day hospital, Comer said they’ve already hired one psychiatrist and “a couple” of registered nurses and social workers.

Comer also said inpatient acute psychiatric units across the province are functioning at “very high occupancy rates.” In the western, northern, and eastern zones, he pegged occupancy rates at around 95% to 96%.

In the Central Zone, Comer said the occupancy rate regularly exceeds 100%.

“This means that more patients need to be transferred across the province to the western, the northern and eastern zones, putting patients further away from their families and support networks,” Comer said, adding those transfers also reduce the number of available ambulances.

“These impacts are costly, inefficient, and most importantly, they aren’t meeting the care needs of Nova Scotians. By adding another level of care, this new hospital will help to alleviate the pressures and free up inpatient psychiatric beds.”

Comer said they plan to collect data over the next six to 12 months to determine if and when the day hospital pilot can be expanded to other zones. He said the need for this kind of service is provincewide.

“I think there are Nova Scotians in all three other zones that have significant challenges with addictions and mental health,” Comer said.

“So I think we’ll just wait to see what the data tells us after a couple of months of this facility being open to see where we can go from a geographical and equitable standpoint.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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