By Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau
While researching a story on how long it takes for Ontario patients to be moved from the emergency room to a hospital bed, I came across a rather poignant sentence about wait times for mental health services.
The sentence was included in the annual report card from the Wait Time Alliance, but it is originally from the national mental health strategy released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada last month:
Lack of access in the community to crisis support, mental health and primary care services also drives people to emergency rooms for help, increasing waits and stretching resources. Many community services do not even keep waiting lists, because it might give false hope to people in need that eventually their turn will come. Not only is it essential to do a better job of measuring waits for community-based services, but standards should also be set for wait times, similar to those that exist for several physical illnesses. (p.44)
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews, when discussing the province's decision to track and publish wait times for emergency departments (Ontario and Alberta are the only provinces that do), told me on Tuesday: "We believe in measuring and publicly reporting and that drives change in the system. . . You know as they say, if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it, well, I believe that’s true."
That makes sense.
What doesn't make sense is avoiding the responsibility of making promises because breaking them might give people false hope.
A better idea? Measure wait times and make an effort to reduce them. The result is real hope.