Virtual Emergency Room Improves Access to Mental Health Services for Children and Youth

July 21, 2008
Patients in the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) will soon have greater access to psychiatric services – including child and adolescent psychiatrists - through the use of videoconferencing technologies. Whitby Mental Health Centre (WMHC), Lakeridge Health Network, Peterborough Regional Health Centre and Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay have partnered to develop a virtual emergency room for youth.

“One in five children in Ontario struggle with a diagnosable emotional, mental or behavioural disorder. The virtual emergency room is an innovative approach to better utilize trained mental health experts from different hospitals. Through the use of video conferencing technologies, they will be able to facilitate earlier and specialized intervention for youth throughout the Central East LHIN,” says Sheila Neuburger, Vice-President, Clinical Services of WMHC. “It will help youth, especially in more remote areas of the region, receive more timely access to care.”

When in full operation (in approximately nine months), a “virtual emergency room” will be available at each partnering hospital that will allow those hospitals to access a scheduled roster of psychiatrists to provide assessment services through video psychiatry. It will provide more timely access to children and youth in need of emergency mental health services. Youth in crisis can be assessed at the participating hospital closest to their home through video conference by a psychiatrist at a partnering hospital.

“Given the tremendous shortage of psychiatrists, and child-adolescent psychiatrists in particular, this use of technology will enable improved access for our young patients to specialized services through a new collaboration among hospitals,” says Paul McGary, Lakeridge Health’s Director of Mental Health and Pinewood Centre . “Having timely access to a psychiatrist either in person or through video conferencing will help ER physicians immensely in diagnosing, treating and referring our young mental health patients for follow-up care,” says Dr. Benj Fuller, Chief of Emergency at Lakeridge Health. " Timely assessments are important for the safety and recovery of our patients. My colleagues at the partnering hospitals and I are excited to have this new technology to better serve our communities," added Lakeridge Health child psychiatrist Dr. Albert Massabki.

The partnering hospitals are currently working on an operation plan. The first phase of the virtual emergency room is anticipated to begin its pilot this fall at the four partnering hospitals. The second phase of the project will include a staggered roll out of the virtual emergency room technology to expand to other hospitals in the Central East LHIN.

About Whitby Mental Health Centre
Whitby Mental Health Centre (WMHC) is a public hospital that serves a population of 2.8 million residents and employs 1,200 people. WMHC provides a range of specialized mental health programs for inpatients and outpatients throughout a primary service area that includes Durham Region, York Region, Scarborough, Toronto, Haliburton, Northumberland, Peterborough Counties and the City of Kawartha Lakes. WMHC also operates treatment residences in Stouffville and Oshawa; provides specialized community outreach services; and supports residents in privately operated Homes for Special Care. In addition, the Centre is actively involved in mental health research and education activities.

About Ross Memorial Hospital
Located in Lindsay, Ontario, Ross Memorial Hospital is an active, community hospital, with a progressive team, dedicated to providing compassionate quality patient care to the more than 75,000 residents in our catchment area. Ross Memorial has a capacity of 218 beds, and its emergency department has more than 43,000 patient visits per year. The RMH Mental Health program is the most recently designated Schedule 1 facility in Ontario, with an extensive range of services.

About Lakeridge Health
Lakeridge Health is one of the largest integrated hospital networks in Ontario. Working out of numerous locations, our skilled staff and physicians provide care for East Durham residents as well as specialized regional services for people in the CE LHIN, from east Scarborough to Campbellford. The Lakeridge Health Network is further broadened and strengthened through its formal and informal partnerships within our community – and beyond.
About Peterborough Regional Health Centre
Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC) is an acute care, regional hospital located in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Peterborough is about 90 minutes drive north east of Toronto. Funded by the Province of Ontario through the Central East Local Health Integration Network, PRHC has a capacity of 494 beds, one of the busiest Emergency departments in Ontario, and an extensive range of services.

For more information, or to set up an interview, please contact:
Communications and Public Affairs
Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences
905-430-4055 ext. 4001