Proposed amendments to the Mental Health Act will strengthen patient rights and ensure those rights are respected while patients receive needed care.
Bill 17, the Mental Health Amendment Act, proposes amendments to address a 2019 ruling by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. That ruling found some sections of the Mental Health Act to be unconstitutional or incomplete. Additional amendments are proposed to modernize the act and reduce red tape.
“The proposed amendments address the concerns raised by the court. And they go further, making real improvements in care that will benefit patients and their families.”Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health
Alberta’s Mental Health Act allows for individuals with serious mental health disorders to be involuntarily detained in a designated facility for treatment or to receive mandatory treatment in the community.
To address the court’s requirements, the amendments propose changing the definition of mental disorder so that an individual with a brain injury could not be detained under the act. However, if the individual has both a brain injury and a mental health disorder, the individual could be detained. This means only individuals who require and would benefit from mental health care would be detained.
To safeguard patients’ rights, proposed amendments include requiring hospitals to provide free and timely access to medical records and information about legal counsel and the mental health patient advocate. Facilities would also be required to review forms more promptly, so patients are fully informed about why they are detained. Patients staying in a hospital for more than 30 days would be provided with a treatment plan, including criteria for release, so they know what to expect.
“It is critical individuals interacting with the mental health system understand and are fully able to exercise their rights. The proposed amendments to the Mental Health Act address some of the key areas of concern shared with the mental health patient advocate’s office, providing patients and their caregivers with more timely support and guidance in their mental health journey.”Janice Harrington, Mental Health Patient Advocate
To update and streamline the act, the amendments propose that nurse practitioners be authorized to assess and examine patients. The amendments also propose allowing the use of video conferencing for assessment and examination, as well as offering more locations that provide this care to reduce travel and wait times.
The amendments propose a number of changes to mental health review panels as well. Patients would be provided with more time to appeal a panel’s decision. Also, panels would be permitted to order additional, independent psychiatric opinions and to request that a facility issue a community treatment order when doing so would be more appropriate.