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Virtual care for real-world challenges

Interlake-Eastern RHA’s crisis stabilization unit offering virtual support through pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic first started over one year ago, people quickly learned that life was going to be different for some time. One of the first things health-care workers had to ask themselves was how could they continue to provide quality care while also keeping everyone safe. From family doctors and nurse practitioners to counselors and specialists, offering care virtually was the answer for many, and this was the case at Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority’s crisis stabilization unit.

The crisis stabilization unit is a nurse-managed, voluntary admission unit for people aged 15 and older experiencing a mental health or psychosocial crisis or other struggles in their lives. Located in Selkirk, the crisis stabilization unit provides assessment, short term crisis intervention, treatment and connection to resources.

Jill Hodgson-McConnell, a clinical team manager who works in the area of mental health with Interlake-Eastern RHA, says there are many different life situations that can be addressed with an admission to the crisis stabilization unit.

“It may be someone struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm or who may be having a hard time coping. Sometimes it will be someone who was recently supported through the Rapid Access to Addictions Medicine clinic, or an individual who may be feeling overwhelmed with the constant unknown of the pandemic. For all individuals, the team works with them to build a wellness plan and strategy towards stabilization that is tailored to their unique needs.”

Crisis Stabilization Unit interiorThe unit is not in a hospital setting, as one might imagine. It’s in a cozy old house with a common area, dining area, wellness area, and a big back yard. It’s an eight-bed unit, but because of physical distancing due to COVID-19, the unit has been reduced to just four beds. Knowing the decrease in bed availability could have a negative impact on people in the communities they serve, the team got creative and opened four virtual “beds”. These virtual beds allow individuals who are in a stable or non-triggering home environment to have an admission to the unit without leaving their home. Connecting with nurses by phone or video conferencing, individuals are able to meet with nursing staff daily, receive medication reminders, access resources and actively work on safety, wellness and crisis prevention planning – all within the comfort and safety of their own home.

Anna* is a 21-year-old living in the Interlake-Eastern health region who has benefitted from the new virtual approach.

“Life can get stressful, and sometimes it’s hard to manage those situations,” says Anna. “But you can’t always just put life on hold to be somewhere else. Personally, I have a dog, a lizard, a house to maintain – other people might have a job or kids they can’t leave – so it is great that I can just call and sign myself up to connect with the help I need, when I need it.”

Anna says her goals are to learn to set boundaries better, better manage and dismiss thoughts of suicide, and practice self-care. She adds that goals don’t have to be just things you are struggling with; they could be positive things you want to work on and advance. For those who think they might need help, Anna has no hesitation in recommending they call the unit.

Crisis Stabilization Unit outside“Honestly, for anyone who is thinking of calling or reaching out, just do it. Just rip off the band aid. Just call and ask for help. The worst that can happen is you stay the same. But you might just get better. It’s voluntary, so if you try and it’s not a fit, you can leave and they will still give you some resources to help. They are great, trained professionals who know what to say when you need to hear it, and they give you the tools you need to succeed.”

Virtual care is part of the future of health care in Manitoba, not just in mental health but across the health-care system, as identified already in the province’s Health System Transformation. According to Hodgson-McConnell, if you can provide quality care to more people, it’s an approach that should be explored.

“Will virtual care work for everyone? No. But it’s an option that can help some people who might not otherwise be able to receive the help they need. Post-pandemic we will certainly be considering how we can provide virtual care more permanently, to give people there care they need in a way that works for them.”

For referral information or general inquiries about the Crisis Stabilization Unit, please call 204-482-5361 or toll-free at 1-888-482-5361. If you notice that you may be struggling or that your mental wellbeing may be deteriorating, please call the region’s 24-hour crisis line at 204-482-5419 or toll-free at 1-866-427-8628.

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*Name changed at individual’s request

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