To the Honorable Jim Prentice, the Honorable Stephen Mandel, the Honorable Mike Ellis, the PC Party of Alberta, AHS, Sir or Madame:

I have a grave concern about the state of our mental health services in Alberta.

The other night, I accompanied a family member to Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, and this person ended up in the psychiatric department of the emergency room.

My family member spent two days in the emergency department due to the lack of available psychiatric beds. I was later informed by staff that psychiatric patients were being turned away due to a lack of beds in Foothills emergency department, and in wards all over the city.

Therapists and doctors have said that this is said to become the new norm, and it is not uncommon for patients to spend 2-4 four days in a dark windowless, cold, sterile room waiting for a bed. The result is frequent incidents with security, or sedation against a person’s will due to acting out from excessive stress, isolation, and anxiety caused by waiting so long for treatment. Although necessary at times to prevent harm to self and others, we can determine that incidents will most likely increase based on longer time waiting in emergency psychiatric rooms. The result, in my opinion, amounts to “cruel and unnecessary suffering inflicted on a human being”.

The psychiatric beds in Foothills Medical Centre emergency (and many others) are filthy, with old, peeling paint on the walls. The sheets and blankets were never changed while we were in emergency. The floors were visibly very dirty, and I did not witness a cleaner enter the room the whole time we were there. The state of the bathroom was appalling. There was no toilet paper, no garbage can, paper towels were piled up on the floor, the floors were dirty with built up grime, and were not washed the whole time we were there.

The rest of the hospital was visibly clean and in much better condition.

We were informed that the Conservative government recently shutdown a 22 bed psychiatric ward at Foothills Hospital, and turned it into youth psychiatric beds. While this is desperately needed, the adult psychiatric beds were not replaced. My understanding was that this move was made very quietly so the public was not made aware. (Please correct me if this has been recified?)

The psychiatrists, resident emergency doctors, nurses, and therapists, explained to me that they are completely overwhelmed, and there are simply not enough beds in the city. They are burned out, and simply do not have time or resources to provide adequate care.

I have previously had the experience of visiting someone in the psychiatric ward of the new South Health Campus in South Calgary. The hospital is beautiful, and the psychiatric ward is very clean and inviting. (of course it is new)

What concerned me was the fact that the inpatient wards were underutilized, and there was a severe lack of staff to provide care at a fuller capacity. These rooms could easily be accommodated to hold more than 1 bed (2-4 beds at least), which would at least take a bit of pressure off of the current bed crisis.

The removal of, and the failure to provide psychiatric beds has made the situation unsustainable, and on the verge of collapse. I would expect the fallout to overwhelm the police, and crisis and outreach services, which cannot keep up with demand.

Hospitals are, and will continue to be forced to spend millions of dollars on a revolving door system that admits people, and discharges them without any supports or long term therapy. Helpless people may be forced to take ‘extreme’ measures to be heard.

This is an example of the worst form of abuse of tax payers money when AHS executives and staff receive massive bonuses, and large severances for creating a public health system on the verge of collapse. The tax payer is simply not getting value for their money. Society will ultimately pay the price.

This situation is grave and now is even worse than it was last year. This is completely unacceptable in the 21st century, and shows a deep disregard for the mentally ill.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada :

Twenty percent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness during their lifetime.
§ The economic cost of mental illnesses in Canada was estimated to be at least $7.331 billion in 1993. (Add inflation and the cost is staggering)

The stigma attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.

According to a report to AHS by the Institute if Health Economics (2008):

§ Based on the results of a health survey conducted at the population level in 2003, an estimated 1.9 million Canadian adults have been diagnosed with mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia) and another 1.6 million have reported symptoms but are not being treated. This represents about 10% of the adult Canadian population and based on estimates such as these, mental disorders are a leading cause of disability in Canada

§ In an international context, Canada spends less than most developed countries; the ratio of government mental health to all government health spending is 7.2%, several points lower than the UK and Sweden


Mr. Prentice claims he is going to change Alberta Health Services, but this recent move has only made it worse by penalizing the most marginalized and stigmatized people in our society, the mentally ill.

Mental health is always on the chopping block during budget cuts, …beware the public..

The bottom line is that acceptable levels of mental health are not being delivered across Alberta, and across Canada as a whole. Alberta fails at every level for quality of service.

This is a fact, here is NO excuse. It’s a symptom of the larger problem — the lack of integrated care. Your physical and mental health are one and the same

This current approach to mental health is wrong, and completely unethical. Starting in Alberta, AHS needs to be held accountable for their actions.

I would ask that the PC party and AHS respond to how this situation is going to be solved quickly, morally, and efficiently. No more politics. No more feasibility studies, or health panels. We need action and new ways of thinking !

Please rectify this unbearable situation and allow people to receive the same standard of care as provided for all other physical conditions.

We need leaders that will stand up for what is moral and right, and not fall prey to political antics or re-election schemes.

Please show the public integrity and leadership, therefore you will earn respect.

Thank you for listening to my concerns and I await eagerly for a response.

Yours sincerely,

L.J. Reitsma and family

Calgary West