It is breathtaking political hypocrisy. One day Dennis King solemnly urges all MLAs to ratchet back politics from mental health and addiction discussion; the very next he invokes the worst kind of political decision-making to catapult the fundamentally flawed mobile mental health unit out of Health PEI and into the waiting arms of Island EMS.
It is a decision that runs counter to the personal brand the premier has carefully cultivated of a thoughtful, evidence based, non-partisan decision maker. This is none of that. It is old-school, stubborn political bullheadedness solely motivated by a desire to get something out the door - regardless of whether it will work or is the best solution for those in need.
For a premier whose star rose during COVID by supporting science and expert opinion, ditching best practice for political expediency is jarring. He is squandering a hefty chunk of political capital and leaving his new Minister of Health looking feeble and inept.
And for what? So the province can move forward with a mobile mental health model seen as out of date by a growing number of jurisdictions and a mountain of research. Adopting a police-first model does not serve those in need. That’s the evidence. And that is what Premier King is ignoring.
Listen to both the premier and Minister Hudson and you will hear the institutional bias that allowed the program to develop off the rails in the first place. Neither ever says this is the best model to support those in need. Invariably they speak of the necessity to protect first responders, a crutch to ignore the program’s foundational faults. It is language that shows how oblivious Health PEI is. Lived experience constituted asking just four people and one family four questions. In a bureaucratic bubble this is a representative sample. In reality, it is institutional bias and lazy.
Of course the safety of first responders is paramount, but there are better ways to ensure safety while delivering a respectful and effective response to those in need. Armed police officers, whether in or out of uniform, or driving marked or unmarked cars, increase potential of dangerous escalation.
There are many within mental health and addiction providing exemplary service; people who do whatever is possible to support clients. They did not design this program. It is designed by the same bureaucracy that delivers a disjointed, clinician focused system that is neither collaborative nor integrated. It is definitely not focused on the person or family.
Wishful thinking will not make it better. The political decision to remove Health PEI from file management is a staggering condemnation of its competence. There is now a real question of capacity to move forward because prior to the announcement Health PEI gutted mobile staffing, including removal of the lead psychologist.
Asking Island EMS, and its owner Medavie Blue Cross, to step in raises many new questions. What specific mental health expertise do EMS paramedics have? Who will answer the phone and triage incoming calls, among the most vital of tasks. Will EMS invest in expertise needed to identify calls of higher risk, or rely on less skilled employees, probably at lower pay. Will the call centre be PEI based? Island EMS is already stretched to provide ambulance and community-based services. How will it seamlessly deliver mobile?
To add insult to injury, the government is handing Medavie a blank cheque by announcing its new partnership without first having a signed agreement and contract. In the business world they call this a fireable offense. In government it is an everyday occurrence.
There is only one solution - pause this political rush to launch a program not ready for prime time. It’s time to begin the heavy lifting of creating a truly people focused, integrated, Island-wide mental health and addiction system. Too many are hurting. Too many are falling through cracks created by government indifference or incompetence.
The premier claims he wants to remove politics from the discussion. Now is the time to show it.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com