PEOPLE in mental-health crises at hospital emergency rooms will have quicker access to care, as nurse practitioners (NPs) are now able to assess patients for involuntary admission under the Mental Health Act.
B.C. is bringing into force changes to the Mental Health Act that have expanded authority for assessment from physicians to nurse practitioners. This means more people in a hospital emergency room will be able to respond to people presenting mental-health crises. Effective immediately, this will reduce wait times in emergency rooms and speed up access to care at a critical time.
“When a person is in a mental-health crisis, they must be met with timely, compassionate and appropriate care,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, on Thursday. “By enabling nurse practitioners to assess patients, we are reducing the pressure on emergency department physicians and making sure that people in distress are able to get help faster. This is an important additional tool in our toolbox as we continue building an integrated system of care that works for everyone.”
With these changes, the mental-health facility director will be able to admit a person to a designated mental-health facility for up to 48 hours, if a nurse practitioner or physician is of the opinion that the person has a mental disorder and requires involuntary treatment. A physician is required to examine the patient if they are to be held longer than 48 hours.
“Nurse practitioners are critical to our health-care system, particularly for the delivery of care to rural and Indigenous communities, seniors and people requiring mental-health and addictions care,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Allowing nurse practitioners to complete medical certificates for involuntary admission of individuals to mental-health facilities will prevent delays in access to mental-health care for many people in B.C.”
In the instances when police officers bring individuals in crisis to the hospital, this change will enable officers to transfer the individual to care faster. This will allow police officers to minimize their time in waiting rooms and spend more time helping keep communities safe.
Enhancing supports for people with mental-health challenges is an integral part of A Pathway to Hope, B.C.’s roadmap for building a comprehensive system of mental-health and addictions care for British Columbians.
Victoria Police Chief Constable Del Manak said: “Police officers are often the first to respond to mental-health calls, ensuring a safe response that protects all those involved. These changes are a positive step forward for police departments across B.C. Not only will officers now be able to transfer care of an individual to hospitals in a more timely manner, they will be able to return to the community much sooner to focus on addressing crime and ensuring public safety.”
Alix Arndt, interim CEO, Nurses and Nurse practitioners of British Columbia, said: “Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of B.C. appreciates the changes put forward by government to enable those requiring involuntary admission receive the care they need while their legal rights are respected. Nursing professionals are educated experts in relational practice, are often British Columbian’s first and primary connection when seeking mental-health care, and are essential to ensuring care, equity and justice within our health-care system. Utilizing nurse practitioners to assess and complete certificates for involuntary admission speaks to the depth of knowledge NPs have in providing care for those most vulnerable in their times of greatest need.”
* During the spring 2022 legislative session, government passed legislation to amend the Mental Health Act so people involuntarily admitted under the act can access support from an independent rights adviser.
* Work is underway to implement this new service expected to serve the first patients in the fall of 2023.
* Under the Mental Health Act, involuntary treatment is limited to psychiatric treatment only.
* To ensure physicians, nurse practitioners, health authorities and mental-health facility directors are familiar with the new medical certificate forms, a transition period is in place up to and including January 31, 2024.