October 30, 2018
Story & Photo by Vanessa Gomez
EDMONTON — A new “front door” that provides patients with 24/7 access to addiction and mental health services is in the works at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH).
With the generous support of the Government of Alberta, RAH Foundation, Mental Health Foundation and community donors, Access 24/7 will serve those who are struggling to navigate the system and find a point of access to services.
“This program is going to ensure that those who are affected by mental health and addictions are gaining access to our system and this ‘one door’ for care that they may need at any time, day or night,” says Andrew Otway, President and CEO of the RAH Foundation.
Access 24/7 will be staffed by more than 80 addictions and mental health employees, including mental health therapists, nurses, social workers and addictions counsellors. Twenty of these positions are new.
The site will provide streamlined access to multiple services — such as telephone support, inpatient assessment, scheduled clinic-based services and crisis outreach and stabilization — and staff will triage patients to determine the level of service they require.
The development of Access 24/7, to be located at RAH’s Anderson Hall, follows consultations between Alberta Health Services and 400 individuals from a range of organizations, as well as patients and families, on how best to improve healthcare access regarding substance-use and mental health services.
“Whenever we’re planning a new service, it’s vitally important that we co-design it with our patients and families who have lived and experienced addiction and mental illness,” says Mark Snaterse, Executive Director, AHS Addiction and Mental Health. “In the planning of this initiative we’ve had an extremely dynamic group of people advising us and guiding us.”
A strong supporter and advisor for Access 24/7 is Blake Loates, a mental health advocate who understands the struggle of not knowing how and where to find help. By her own admission, she’s struggled with her mental health since the age of 14.
Her previous work experience as a psychiatric nurse has allowed Blake to take on a voluntary role where she fields questions through her social media accounts about the system and what’s available to people.
“People always ask me, ‘What do I do? Where can I go?’ and it’s never an easy answer,” says Loates. “As someone who understands the system, (I can say) there are amazing people here to give support — and this program will help people navigate this complex system.”
Access 24/7 is expected to launch spring of 2019.