The doctor is in, but won’t see you: No psychiatrist for in-patients in St. Anthony

A St. Anthony man says he was so unwell last month that he was admitted to hospital but wasn’t allowed to see a medical doctor who specialized in the specific health problem he was facing.

T.J. Smith went to the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in early September with recurring suicidal thoughts, and he was kept in hospital for nearly two weeks. Smith says he has a history of mental illness, and is on medication for depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

“I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts and ideas, and I broke down several times crying,” he told CBC News.

“So at that point I felt the only safe spot for me would be at the hospital.”

Smith said he’s grateful for the help he received from the medical professionals at the hospital in St. Anthony, but he questions why a locum psychiatrist visiting the town wasn’t allowed to see him as a patient. Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital currently doesn’t have a psychiatrist on staff.

“This locum psychiatrist sees outpatients and, where I was an in-patient, I couldn’t be seen.”

There is no psychiatrist currently on staff at the hospital. (Submitted)

Needed a specialist

Smith said he was told that visiting psychiatrists are only permitted to see outpatients during their time in St. Anthony.

But he said he believes a psychiatrist would be best qualified to adjust his medications or possibly to offer a different diagnosis, either of which Smith said would be beneficial to his recovery and long-term well-being.

I was just looking for some answers, and I didn’t get them.– T.J. Smith

Smith said he’s on the same medications that were prescribed for him when he was living in Nova Scotia in 2016, so he thinks a change may be warranted now, three years later.

“I just want to speak to a psychiatrist that has more information and more knowledge of the psychiatric drugs,” said Smith.

“I was just looking for some answers, and I didn’t get them.”

Smith’s hospital stay did not include a visit with a psychiatrist, even though he was admitted for reasons related to his mental health. (Google Streetview)

Not enough staff

Smith said that his hospital stay was very helpful to him, and he’s on the road to recovery as a result.

“I did feel very safe in that environment, which was what I was looking for,” he said.

Smith said he’s speaking out because he believes the staff who kept him on constant watch are stretched to the limit at times.

“I’m disappointed. I’m a big supporter of the mental health staff here. They do great work, but I think they’re short-staffed,” he said.

In addition to being a user of mental health services himself, Smith is also the founder of the St. Anthony and Area Mental Health Peer Support Group, which has been meeting weekly for the past year.

He also writes a blog about his battle with depression.

Trying to recruit

The health authority that runs the St. Anthony hospital, Labrador-Grenfell Health, acknowledges the facility doesn’t have a psychiatrist on staff right now.

In an emailed statement, the health authority said it is currently recruiting for two regional psychiatry positions.

In the meantime, it provides psychiatry services on a fill-in basis, through in-person and telemedicine visits.

Labrador-Grenfell Health said all patients are assessed to ensure the appropriate level of care is provided, and those who need to see a psychiatrist get a referral.

If a case is deemed urgent, an on-call psychiatrist is available through telemedicine.

However, if a referral is not deemed urgent, a psychiatrist may see a patient either while they’re in hospital or after being discharged.

The health authority says if anyone has concerns with the care they receive, they should get in touch with Labrador-Grenfell Health.

Smith hopes a full-time permanent psychiatrist can be recruited soon, and he said that specialty is badly needed on the tip of the Northern Peninsula, where patients often travel long distances right now in order to see a psychiatrist.

“We have a large area up here [with] a lot of people that do struggle with mental health issues,” said Smith.

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