PRINCE ALBERT -- A hospital unit dedicated to youth mental health in Prince Albert is open again thanks to the addition of psychiatrist Dr. Randy Zbuk.

The Victoria Hospital’s Child and Youth Inpatient Unit slowed down its services in June, leading to a temporary closure, after the death of a long-time child psychiatrist and the retirement of another psychiatrist.

The unit started slowly reopening last week with a five-bed capacity. Normally, it has 10 beds, which represents one-third of all of the youth psychiatry beds in Saskatchewan.

“We filled up in a week. It just shows the need. It feels good, but I want to ensure that we’re able to provide that service in a very consistent, efficient way,” said Zbuk, who moved from Edmonton and started in Prince Albert in mid-January.

"We need those 10 beds,” he said. “It shows that we are very underserviced. Child psychiatry in Canada is grossly underserviced, but here, tremendously so."

While the unit was shut down temporarily, patients and their families were referred to Saskatoon for care.

Saskatoon youth psychiatrist Dr. Tamara Hinz said she’s grateful for the reopening of the Prince Albert unit.

“I think anybody looking at the situation can see that one psychiatrist is clearly not enough to cover that massive amount of work. Dr. Zbuk is definitely going to need some help up there,” she said.

Hinz explained that a group of Saskatoon child psychiatrists were travelling to Prince Albert once every few weeks for clinics. After hours, she said, patients had to be transferred to Saskatoon emergency departments.

"It was a lot, and it continues to be a lot, because if Dr. Zbuk wants to take holidays or he’s away or the five beds in the unit fill, those children will still come to Saskatoon."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said it’s continuing to recruit "for additional child and youth psychiatry resources" in Prince Albert. According to a news release, the SHA said it re-evaluated the service after the closure to determine how to achieve “successful recruitment and long-term sustainability."

For Zbuk, taking a position that would reopen a unit was “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“A lot of the challenges that some of these kids face, it’s unbelieve how resilient they are and if you have the chance to alter a child’s trajectory, it’s priceless,” he said.

“To make these positive changes, that’s what keeps me going.”

In one week of Zbuk taking patients, he’s seen children from across northern Saskatchewan.

The SHA said physicians and nurse practitioners can continue to refer patients to the Child and Youth Inpatient Unit.