Launching a regional solution for PTSD centre of excellence

A clinical psychologist in Halifax, Dr. John Whalen, is calling for a PTSD centre to be established to service Atlantic Canada. Dr. Whalen would like to see a facility open in Halifax.

Reading headlines from around the region, PTSD seems to almost qualify as an epidemic.

Back in February I privately suggested there was a turn-key solution for the situation. Turn-key in terms of a facility.

A U.S.-based colleague confided that he had spent years dealing with depression. One facility which turned his life around is the Brattleboro Retreat in Vermont. I looked at their website. They have a campus like that of a small college. It looked like a healing place.

This prompted me to think we could have a Brattleboro-like facility by repurposing the Memramcook Institute into a facility treating PTSD and related illnesses. The Institute opened 150 years ago as Collège Saint-Joseph, which became the University of Moncton. It then morphed into a conference centre and was later operated as a four-star resort. The resort failed, but the buildings and campus amenities survive. The Province of New Brunswick owns the facility and spends $5 million a year to maintain it while they try to figure out what to do with the buildings and campus. In 2013 New Brunswick struck a committee to find a new use for the facility. None has been found.

This could be a perfect, almost off-the-shelf, turn-key solution to a problem vexing all four provinces. The institute has the physical structures and facilities of a small university in place. There are bedrooms, classrooms, kitchens, cafeterias and dining halls, recreational facilities, laundry and so forth. The province has been maintaining the facility, so the set-up costs would be for cosmetic fixes, furniture and staffing. There would be no significant capital outlay or construction delays. The biggest challenge is finding the staff.

It could be an unique enough concept to appeal to professionals looking for a change as well as young professionals bored by the grim, traditional options. It might even become affiliated with a medical school to turn it into a teaching facility and a centre of excellence for mental health issues. And, if it served four provinces, perhaps staffing could be managed on a rotation basis, which clinicians, like Dr. Whalen, coming in for defined periods.

The provinces have been discussing cooperation on various files and this could be a solution for the mental health challenges.

The Institute is located in Memramcook between Amherst and Moncton. Its location is central for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Patients from all three Maritime provinces could drive or be driven to it. For families in Care Breton it’s not that much farther than Halifax, less inconvenient and probably less expensive than a trip to the city. Islanders only have to zip across the Confederation Bridge. Newfoundland could fly patients to Moncton. Quebec might also consider sending patients from the Magdalen Islands – they take a ferry to Souris, PEI, and drive over. NB is bilingual, so that removes linguistic and other issues for Quebec patients. It might also work for the military since CFB Gagetown, Shearwater, Halifax and Greenwood are less than a three-hour drive.

I doubt there is another facility like it in Canada. Rather than a city-centred hospital that so many mental health facilities are this offers a country campus. It’s quiet and like a resort for troubled souls. A retreat, like Memramcook, may provide the space, distance and a type of positive segregation to help someone regain control of their life. (By positive segregation, I mean they can take treatment, sit in the sun, exercise or do whatever they want to without feeling the pressure of being judged by strangers passing through a hospital corridor.) It could be large enough for families to have multiple day visits to see how the patient deals with the pressure/pleasure of family before returning to their home community.

This would be a quick, tangible and real solution to a growing problem. And could be done at an unimaginably low cost for health care.

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