Data indicates Red Deer has fewer psychiatrists than similar-sized Alberta cities

Frustrated parent urges Central Albertans to write to the health minister

Red Deer has fewer psychiatrists than most mid-sized Alberta cities, according to data from the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons website.

This is raising concerns — and frustration — about over-long waits for local mental health care.

According to website information, Red Deer (pop. 100,418) has 14 psychiatrists, which works out to a ratio of 0.139 per 1,000 people. (Alberta Health Services indicates 13 psychiatrists are practicing in the city, which would pull the ratio even lower).

Red Deer has fewer specialists than Lethbridge, which has a lower population and 16 psychiatrists (or 0.172 per 1,000 people). Red Deer’s ratio is also lower than that of Medicine Hat, which has nine psychiatrists (or 0.142 per 1,000 people), and Grande Prairie with 10 psychiatrists or 0.158 per 1,000 people).

Only Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Calgary have a lower per capital ratios.

These calculations do not include zone catchment areas. As part of the Central Zone, Red Deer can serve up to 470,494 people.

Red Deer’s lower ratio doesn’t surprise Graham Barclay of Red Deer.

As the father of a child with mental health problems, Barclay knows the frustration of having a long wait for psychiatric care. For some people, the waits have stretch to six weeks — “at least,” he added.

“There’s lots of discontent in the city because it’s difficult to get in to see a psychiatrist.”

Central Zone medical director Dr. Evan Lundall said recruiting and retaining medical specialists, such as psychiatrists, can be a challenge outside large urban centres. “This challenge is not unique to Red Deer, nor to addiction and mental health.”

But Alberta Health Services officials have worked hard to recruit five psychiatrists for the Red Deer area in recent years, he added — including four adult psychiatrists, and a child psychiatrist. And an additional two psychiatrists were recruited in 2017 to practice in Ponoka.

Lundall believes data from the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons website doesn’t provide the full picture. Some specialists work in more than one place using technologies like Telehealth, which connects them to remote patients via videoconference. He also noted Red Deer is also close to Ponoka’s Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury – although centre specialists see upwards of 30 per cent of their patients from outside the Central Zone.

While Christine Stewart, executive-director of Red Deer’s Canadian Mental Health Association, appreciates the recruitment efforts, she confirmed patient access remains a concern.

“CMHA supports an expansion of both medical and mental health services in the Central Alberta area,” she added, noting the financial investment has many long-term health and cost benefits.

Barclay urges anyone who’s been affected by long waits for mental health care – whether for a psychiatrist, emergency room care, hospital bed or other service – to write the health minister to complain about the need for more resources.

“As a parent, you are frustrated and scared … If there’s something Central Alberta can do to help, let’s (speak up) and do it.”

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