P.E.I.’s minister of health has downplayed the leadership role that Island EMS will be playing with the new mobile mental health units and has said involvement of police with the units will be a “rare event”.
On Wednesday, Ernie Hudson told reporters that calls received by mobile mental health units, which will involve clinicians visiting individuals directly in their homes, will likely not involve police. Previously, staff with Health P.E.I. had said plainclothes officers would attend most or all calls with mental health nurses or social workers as a safety precaution.
Hudson said after calls from individuals facing a mental health crisis are received, a team involving either a social worker or a nurse will be dispatched, along with a paramedic from Medavie, which is the parent company of Island EMS.
“I would anticipate that it would be a fairly rare event. But in (that) event, when that call comes in (and) is triaged, in this particular case we should have law enforcement as well,” Hudson said
Hudson has faced questions about the service after staff with his department confirmed to CBC earlier this month that the service would be managed by Medavie.
During question period on Wednesday, Green MLA Trish Altass raised several questions about the lack of consultation with three Island unions – CUPE 3324 representing P.E.I. paramedics, the P.E.I. Nurses Union and the Union of Public Sector Employees, which represents some Health P.E.I staff. Two of these unions have said placing Medavie in a management role of the service constitutes a privatization of a health service.
“Privatization of a health-care service – that is a slippery, slippery slope,” Altass said.
“Why did you decide to privatize this health-care service, and do you have any plans to privatize any other health-care services?”
“I cannot emphasize too much that this is not – it is not privatization of any service,” Hudson said.
“If it was privatization, would Health P.E.I. be hiring 12 new positions to provide this very needed service to Islanders? My answer to that would be no.”
In an interview after question period, Hudson told reporters that Medavie will not be managing the mobile mental health units.
“As far as the management of the service, it’s going to be the Department of Health and Wellness,” Hudson said.
“It is a service that is going to be delivered by Health P.E.I. And certainly, Medavie is a very valuable partner.”
Hudson did not deny that Medavie would be involved in setting schedules for nurses or other Health P.E.I. staff involved in the unit. Scheduling is often a management responsibility.
But Hudson said hiring would not be led by Medavie and would go through the province’s Public Service Commission.
Hudson also said an agreement has not yet been signed with Medavie.
But unions were left with a different perspective after meeting with staff from the Department of Health and Wellness on Monday. A PowerPoint presentation from this meeting, posted online by CUPE 3324, included a slide that said Medavie “will operationalize and manage the Integrated Mobile Mental Health and Addictions response service”.
“We found out last week that our employees have already been moved over to Medavie/Blue Cross headquarters,” Barbara Brookins, president of the P.E.I. Nurses Union told The Guardian.
“It doesn’t seem like a very good business decision to move your employees and a service into a private employer if you don’t have a contract.”
Brookins also said most positions with the mobile mental health service have not yet been hired. She believes the role of Medavie constitutes privatization.
Jason Woodbury, president of CUPE 3324, said paramedics have been left in the dark about how the mobile mental health units will work.
“There was no communication to our union whatsoever,” Woodbury said.
Department of Health staff told a standing committee in February that the mobile mental health teams would provide better mental health care to individuals and would reduce demands on emergency rooms. The department previously said the service would be operational in early 2021.