April 14th, 2024

New organizations to support mental health and addiction care


By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on April 3, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

The Alberta government is creating two new organizations aimed at supporting the development of the mental health and addiction system of care.

In November 2023, Alberta’s government announced it would refocus health care with the creation of four new organizations – acute care, continuing care, primary care and mental health and addiction – responsible for the oversight and delivery of health-care services in the province. The mental health and addiction organization, Recovery Alberta, will be the first of these established when it becomes an entity later this year,

The new mental health and addiction organization announced Tuesday, will be responsible for the delivery of mental health and addiction services currently delivered by Alberta Health Services (AHS). In addition, the government is establishing the Canadian Centre of Recovery Excellence (CoRE) to support the creation of recovery oriented systems of care by researching best practices for recovery from around the world, analyzing data and making evidence-based recommendations.

“Refocusing health care enables us to better prioritize the health care and services Albertans need,” Premier Danielle Smith said. “Giving Albertans living with mental health or addiction challenges an opportunity to pursue recovery and live a contributing life is the responsible and compassionate thing to do.”

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange noted the province has made significant progress on refocusing health care in the province.

“Today marks a pivotal milestone towards creating a system that truly serves the needs of Albertans,” LaGrange said. “Through this refocused approach, our aim is to prioritize the needs of individuals and families to find a primary care provider, get urgent care without long waits, access the best continuing care options, and have robust support systems for addiction recovery and mental health treatment.”

In August 2023, Alberta’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction began consolidating the delivery of mental health and addiction services within AHS, and completed the process the following November without any disruption to services.

Recovery Alberta will report to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction and further support the ministry’s mandate to provide high-quality, recovery-oriented mental health and addiction services to Albertans. It is anticipated Recovery Alberta will be fully operational by summer 2024 and will operate with an annual budget of $1.13 billion. The money currently supports the delivery of mental health and addiction services through AHS.

The current provincial leadership team for addiction and mental health and correctional health services within AHS will form the leadership team of Recovery Alberta. When Recovery Alberta is fully established, Kerry Bales, the current chief program officer for addiction and mental health and correctional health services will be appointed CEO. Dr. Nick Mitchell, provincial medical director, addiction and mental health and correctional health services will become the provincial medical director for Recovery Alberta.

“Recovery Alberta will build on the strong foundation of existing mental health and addiction services that staff and clinicians deliver,” Bales said. “By working closely with Alberta Mental Health and Addiction and the Canadian Centre of Recovery Excellence, Recovery Alberta will continue to set a high standard of care for mental health and addiction recovery across the province, and beyond.”

While timelines are dependent on legislative amendments yet to be introduced, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction is aiming to establish the corporate structure of Recovery Alberta by June 3. Following the establishment of the corporate structure and executive team, staff and services would begin operation under the banner of Recovery Alberta on July 1.

Frontline workers and service providers will continue to be essential to care for Albertans. To ensure stability of services to Albertans, there will not be any changes to terms and conditions of employment for AHS addiction and mental health staff transitioning to Recovery Alberta. Additionally, there will not be any changes to grants or contracts for service providers currently under agreement with AHS.

To continue the innovative work required to improve the mental health and addiction system, the provincial government is creating CoRE to inform best practices in mental health and addiction, conduct research and program evaluation and support the development of evidence-based policies for mental health and addiction. CoRE will be established as a crown corporation through legislation to be introduced this spring.

The government has committed $5 million through Budget 2024 to support the establishment of CoRE, which is scheduled to be operational by the summer.

The CoRE leadership team will comprise CEO Kym Kaufmann, former deputy minister of mental health and community wellness in Manitoba, and Dr. Nathaniel Day as chief scientific officer. Day currently serves as the medical director of addiction and mental health within AHS.

“There is a need for more scientific evidence on how best to help those impacted by addiction within our society,” Kaufmann said. “The Canadian Centre of Recovery Excellence will generate new and expanded evidence on the most effective means to support individuals to start and sustain recovery.”

Virtual engagement sessions for AHS staff and service providers will be held on April 11, 16, 17 and 22.

The announcement comes as the government works to expand its inventory of treatment and recovery facilities.

So far, the province has built two new such centres and has another nine in the planning or construction stage.

Janet Eremenko, the Opposition NDP mental health and addiction critic, said creating Recovery Alberta will do nothing to halt drug poisoning deaths that have climbed to record numbers.

In a news release, Eremenko said the plan abandons established organizations that have been successfully delivering wraparound treatment services.

“Rather than funding these organizations, the UCP is moving forward with opaque, private contracts,” said Eremenko.

“This undermines the trust and transparency that Albertans require, particularly in a ministry dedicated to the sensitive care of vulnerable individuals.”

– with files from The Canadian Press

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