Speaking at Second Reading on Bill 5 to amend the Mental Health Act and the Personal Health Information Act.
On the afternoon of Dec 6th, I spoke at second reading on Bill 5 to make changes to the mental health act and the personal information act to allow health professionals to contact members of a person's circle of care when the person is or may be suicidal. My comments, from Hansard, are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): We have lost too many Manitobans to suicide, under conditions where the suicide could've been prevented. We've heard already today, and I will tell it again, the story of a friend of mine who went to the one place where he should've found help, at the emergency room, and he was sent away with a bus pass, and three days later he was dead. We have heard about Reid Bricker. We have heard about a friend of the MLA for Assiniboia, and I believe there are many, many more that we have not heard about because all too often, individuals in this circumstance, there is a sense of shame over the commission of suicide and an unwillingness of families to come forward and speak up. And in that, I think we owe a great debt to Bonnie and George Bricker who have been ready to 'spreak' up and push for change.
Bill 5 makes changes so that health professionals can more easily contact family members or members of a person's Circle of Care in order to provide help and to prevent suicides and other potential harms to individuals. This bill copies legislation which was introduced by Manitoba Liberals two years ago. It has meant a two-year delay in getting this important approach implemented. I am pleased that the efforts I have made in the last 24 hours at least have put a sense of urgency forward in terms of getting this legislation passed. And I think that that sense of urgency is important because we are talking about the life and, hopefully, not deaths of individuals and being–having a measure that could make a significant difference. I do hope that that sense of urgency and the sense of an increased need to be vigilant and do what can be done even under the present laws before we get this law passed.
I respect that there will be others coming forward and who will have important comments to make when it gets to committee. But at the same time I think that the Minister of Health–and I would ask the Minister of Health to redouble his efforts to make sure that everybody who comes in who is suicidal goes out with a discharge plan, goes out with somebody, whether it's a peer support worker–you can have a peer support worker now–whether it is a Circle of Care. What you will often find, in my experience, is that even, for example, when there is somebody who has a difference with their parents and doesn't want their parents to know, that there is usually somebody else who they will say, yes, if you ask, talk to them because they are still somebody that I trust. And I believe that there is a way, even in the current circumstance, to find somebody who can provide peer support through the mood disorders of–association, if necessary, or somebody who can be a trusted friend in the Circle of Care who can be approached, with the permission of the individual who brings in the concern.
And one of the problems that we have seen, and it's important that all know this and health professionals know this, is that currently, when an individual comes in who is suicidal, they may be asked, you know, are you suicidal? Is there a risk if you're–go home? And they're often–some of them, not all–some of them will admit they are. But quite often we have individuals who are really good at talking, at convincing, and saying, oh, I'm not suicidal. What we have to know is that the biggest risk factor for somebody to commit suicide is a previous suicide attempt.
And so, where we have somebody coming in who has had a previous suicide attempt, we need to take that issue of possible suicide very, very seriously and make sure they're not sent home with just a bus pass, they are not sent out into the night or the day without some sort of a plan there.
And so I believe that this can and should be done, even with the legislation we have now, and I would urge all in the health-care system to be part of the change and making sure that we can provide better support to individuals; in particular, those who are suicidal–even when they say they are not–if there is a history of previous suicide.
I want to mention a little bit about the bill that the MLA for Kewatinook introduced: the Liberal bill, November 30th, 2016, a little over two years ago. She introduced the bill, and she said, and I want to quote from her: "When a person is hospitalized for an injury, a heart attack or a stroke, health-care professionals contact that person's Circle of Care, whether they be family or friends, yet there is uncertainty to make that contact when it is a mental illness, suicide attempt or drug overdose, due to the language used in our Personal Health Information Act and our Mental Health Act."
"Madam Speaker, Bill 209"–and that was the bill two years ago–"would see that language clarified so that circles of care may be notified in the case of mental or brain health issues when compelling health or safety circumstances exist."
And that was using languages, primarily, were taken from law in British Columbia, which has been working and has been more effective in this respect.
It is to be noted that two years ago, the Conservatives voted against this bill at second reading, which is too bad. Now, I'm pleased that they have seen the light and are indeed bringing in this bill and, as a result, I think, in part, of the discussions we've had most recently in the last 48 hours, that there is a bit of a sense of urgency now to getting this passed and to getting attention to it, and attention to this whole subject.
The–I mentioned the individual who is a friend who went to the emergency room because he was depressed and suicidal, and he was sent home with a bus pass, and within days, he committed suicide, and that brought to my attention and to our attention, as Manitoba Liberals, the 'needges' for changes to the way individuals who are suicidal need to be treated when they present to an emergency room.
That led to the development of what was then bill 230, The Mental Health Bill of Rights, and this included aspects which are in the UN Convention's recommendations: that individuals with mental health should be given equal treatment under the law, and the right to have family members or a circle of friends supportive of their decision-making. This, in fact, is what we are talking about today.
October 24th, 2015: Reid Bricker, who was suicidal and presented for care, was sent home without the family being notified, and when they found out, even though it was only a few hours later, it was too late; and months later, Reid Bricker's body was found.
Bonnie and George Bricker have pushed for changes to ensure that there's legislation so that health professionals are able to notify family in such circumstances before a person is discharged, so that such suicides can be prevented.
Following the 2016 provincial election, in which brain and health was a significant issue, Manitoba Liberal caucus entered into extensive consultations with regard to brain and mental health. These consultations led to the release, in the fall of 2016, of the Manitoba Liberal Party report: Optimal Brain Health for all Manitobans.
The report included the recommendation which read: A working group on optimal brain health make recommendations for the optimum approach available in Manitoba for creating effective networks of support to assist those with brain-health issues.
These recommendations need to include changes to The Mental Health Act to make it easier for health professionals to share information with family members and possibly with other members of the person's circle of support.
It was this recommendation which led to bill 209, which was introduced a little over two years ago by the MLA for Kewatinook.
We have had, in the last few weeks, a rather extraordinary number of people who have come forward, largely family members, parents, and members of circles of care who are desperate, who have come forward with stories which are remarkably similar to the stories of Reid Bricker and the stories of the friend that I mentioned and the stories of the individual from the MLA for Assiniboia.
And it is important to recognize the urgency of the situation now. It's my understanding that the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba had something like a tripling of their normal calls over the holiday season last year and that the number of people presenting to emergency rooms increased significantly for those with mental health issues over the holiday season last year, and that gives us some extra urgency in dealing with this matter and extra urgency, as I had mentioned to the Minister of Health, to make sure that everything that can be done to improve the way that individuals who are suicidal are helped, whether it be in an emergency room or the crisis response centre or other places within our health-care system.
We have, I think, an important role, and it's been talked about, to monitor situations when information is shared under this clause so that we can track what's happening and improve the nature of the support and the nature of how the health-care system responds and that tracking would be important to understand when the clause is being used well and if and where there may be problems in its use so that we can, in fact, inform policy and improve policy and guidelines as we move forward based on the experience.
I think it's very important that we understand the potential critical role for peer support workers. Peer support workers have been employed now in many, many countries. They have been used in quite a number of facilities in Canada. The interesting thing is that the finding has been that employing peer support workers actually reduces subsequent emergency room visits. It reduces the expenses related to emergency room and hospitalizations and so that there is a net cost saving, even though there is an upfront investment that has to be made in order to ensure that there are adequate numbers of peer support workers. And this is one of the areas where it is critical that we move forward and move forward vigorously and quickly.
I think it's also important, as I've talked about, that we understand and build upon this concept of having a Circle of Care who are supportive of individuals with mental and brain health, and it is important to be able to work with those affected because sometimes, whether it's family members or others in the Circle of Care, there becomes a situation where there is a rift, but if you have a significant Circle of Care, there will always be individuals who, the individual who is suicidal, or who is affected by a mental illness or brain‑health problem feels that they can still trust.
And so building up and nurturing the Circle of Care can be of critical importance, and the ability to share information with people who are part of that Circle of Care and understand the importance of building that Circle of Care, not just with health professionals, but with friends and family members, is really a part of what is needed in terms of helping those with brain health and mental health issues.
So, with those comments, I want to move to wind up. We are at just about the end of this sitting. We are going to break for the holiday season. I want to thank the Clerk and the Clerk's table and the people who have been a tremendous support for us in the Legislature, whether it be Hansard or translation or various other services.
I also want to extend greetings and best wishes for the holiday season for all the MLAs who are here and the staff, and just say that whether it is Xmas–Christmas, or Hanukkah, or other celebrations, that it is time for some period with family and friends and to relax. But it's also time, as we are talking about today, to remember those who are less well off, to remember those who have brain or mental health issues and–because this is a critical time for them as well as for all of us and for our families. And so I wish all well. And, Madam Speaker, I wish you well, as well.
Thank you, and perhaps we can move forward to have the second reading passed.