PRINCE ALBERT -- A child psychiatrist says the lack of a dedicated child and youth mental health unit in Prince Albert is straining resources in Saskatoon.

The Prince Albert child and youth mental health inpatient unit temporarily closed in June 2020 following the retirement of a child psychiatrist.

Dr. Tamara Hinz, who works a two-week rotation in the child and youth mental health unit in Saskatoon and the Dube Centre, took to Twitter on Tuesday to detail the impact that the closure in Prince Albert has had on herself and the child psychiatric staff in Saskatoon.

“I was just really struck by how busy and more complex that has made the work in Saskatoon. And feeling a bit stressed and frustrated at times regarding some of the additional complicating factors that it’s brought about.” Hinz told CTV News.

She said she’s encountered issues around setting-up outpatient care in Prince Albert for patients who can be discharged and psychiatrists from Saskatoon also have to travel to Prince Albert and the north to provide outpatient care in clinic appoints.

“In the last two weeks, since I’ve been working at the Dube Centre over half of the kids are from Prince Albert or the north. It’s made our bed capacity a much more significant issue. And at times it’s been hard to find beds for all the kids that need care.” Hinz said.

In a statement to CTV, Brett Enns, Executive Director Primary Care, Integrated Northern Health said if inpatient admission is required, those patients are being cared for in Saskatoon. Victoria Hospital’s Emergency Department continues to see child and youth mental health patients for immediate care and assessment.

“Patients continue to seek care at the Victoria Hospital’s Emergency Department,” Brett Enns, executive director primary care, Integrated Northern Health, said in a statement to CTV News.

“If inpatient admission is required, arrangements are made for admission in Saskatoon. The child and youth mental health teams in Prince Albert and Saskatoon have developed processes to manage patient flow between the two centres.

Child psychiatrists in Saskatoon are providing support for child and youth outpatient clinics on a weekly basis - an interim solution the SHA recruits for four child psychiatrists positions in Prince Albert, Enns said.

The NDP says the shortage of child psychiatrists has been a long-standing issue, saying that concerns about the supply of child psychiatrists date to 2016. In 2017, the wait time to see a child psychiatrist was two years in Saskatoon, according to the party.

The NDP cited CIHI data showing Saskatchewan’s mental health hospitalization rate for children and youth is the second-highest of all the provinces.

The NDP says the data also show that Saskatchewan is tied for last place in numbers of psychiatrists treating children and youth and that the number of children and youth hospitalized for mental health in Saskatchewan has doubled in the last decade, the highest rate of growth in the country.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the SHA has been recruiting these positions with recently increased recruitment incentives.

“Saskatchewan’s overall supply of psychiatrists has been steadily increasing. Since 2007 the number of psychiatrists has increased by 34 per cent.”

--With files from Jonathan Charlton