Reducing wait lists, one letter at a time

Wait list for fully funded mental health services is long, especially for youth. Izaak Walton Killam Health Care Centre in Halifax took a new approach to reducing the wait list — it cut about 500 people from its list overnight. Letters were sent to parents of youth on the wait list asking them if they still wanted to access the mental health services. If so, the parents were to respond by a certain date. If they didn’t respond, their names were taken off the wait list.

The hospital was trying to reduce its wait list by removing people who no longer required services. I was unimpressed by this approach when I first read about it. Then I thought about it for awhile and thought they might be on to something. After all, not too many people will go out of their way to tell a hospital or other program that they want off a wait list. Okay, I thought, this might make sense. Then I thought about it some more.

It doesn’t make sense because I am not sure how it gets youth seen faster. After all, it is simple for a family to say no when they are contacted to arrange an appointment once they have reached the top of the wait list. The program then moves down to the next person on the wait list. Out of service phone numbers and not having a current mailing address will account for people who move out of the area.

So, what is the point of such an approach? Sure, it drastically reduces the number of people listed on the wait list. That looks good to the public. It also allows people to be dropped from the wait list if they simply don’t respond or don’t respond on time. The approach dropped 500 people on a 1,100 person waiting list. Is it really possible that none of those 500 families still need service?

The hospital says it will now follow up with the health care provider who referred the youth to their services to help determine if the services are still required by the 500 people who didn’t respond. That is something, but I am sure there are families and youth who need and want the service who will get bumped off the waiting list without knowing.

This approach seems to make access to care more inaccessible rather than more accessible. All it does, I think, is to make the hospital look good for cutting wait lists… but then again, they got caught doing it and now there is a lot of negative press. Maybe there is no winner at all.

(Interesting to note that the hospital also announced they were laying off 22 youth workers about the same time. Hm, makes you think.)

Access The Star’s article on this at:

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1147713–halifax-hospital-under-fire-for-trimming-names-from-mental-health-care-waiting-list

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