N.B. health minister hopes to release plan to reform health-care next month

New Brunswick's health minister says change is coming – and the roadmap will come in the form of a healthcare reform plan she says will be released by late October.

Horizon Health Network has been under the microscope in recent months, plagued by staffing shortages, long wait times and complaints about the quality of care.

On Wednesday, the child and youth advocate's office released a report focused on youth mental health – and the death of 16-year old Lexi Daken.

The Fredericton-area teen died by suicide despite trying to get psychiatric help from the Fredericton Everett Chalmers emergency department.

A review found that ER staff had no formal training or resources for working with mental health patients – and that the teen was never given a suicide risk assessment or safety plan before she went home.

The report also said some psychiatrists on-call are "reluctant" to come in after midnight unless it's a serious situation, and follow-up care with community mental health was inadequate.

During a committee hearing, Horizon's vice president community Jean Daigle, acknowledged the report – and said they are trying to make improvements.

"Physical improvements, touch-points, hand-offs," he said. "What we've introduced to our staff is the notion of a warm transfer, meaning that when someone presents to the emergency department with that kind of distress, it is important for the various parts of the mental health system to be connected."

He said they have challenges recruiting – including child psychiatrists. But trauma-informed training for all staff began in June – and the Chalmers emergency department has added an area for those in mental distress – that's away from the general waiting room.

"This is not just your job, or your job, it's our job to look after this individual that presents in crisis."

Horizon Health has a budget of $1.2 billion, 13,000 staff and 12 hospitals.

Dorothy Shephard said Thursday she had to make changes to its leadership, because the organization needs to be healthy – and "whereby the employees that are in it are satisfied."

"I don't think moral is very good at either one of our RHA's to be completely honest," she said. "Not only do we need Vitalite and Horizon working arm and arm, we need Ambulance New Brunswick, extra-mural, 811, we need this system to be seamless. That's what I'm striving to do."