By Geneviève April
In early April, Quebec’s Health Ministry ordered a sudden withdrawal of services, including psychosocial support, from non-COVID-19 patients, in anticipation of a coming health care crisis.
“They told us to call all our patients who were awaiting psychosocial support and to retain only the most urgent cases—those who pose an imminent danger to themselves and others,” explained a social worker who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We closed all the others files and asked them to apply again, when the crisis is over.”
For the most part, most of the most urgent cases entail mental health referrals, some of which were reassigned among psychosocial team members. Some files already underway were also closed or reclassified as lower priority.
“It’s essential to tailor our services to the pandemic. The entire capacity of our psychosocial specialist and social worker teams need be at the ready to ensure that crisis support and referral for specific programs and services remain available 7/24,” Health Ministry spokesman Robert Maranda explained in an electronic mail message.
“Management told us that it was a top-down order. That we had to state in our reports that we provided one- to three-hour consults, when in fact we barely spoke ten minutes with the person. That [responsibility for] the file was automatically attributed to us. These are not problems that can be solved in ten minutes. I’m the one signing my name to that report. If something happens, I’ll be held responsible,” underscored the social worker, who fears that patients won’t get sufficient follow-up, for lack of resources.
A similar request, to automatically assign a social worker the file of all patients whom they had interacted with, even briefly, was made in January, but put on ice after arousing front-line caregivers’ ire.
After it shed services, the province experienced much less COVID-19-linked demand than it had anticipated. Demand for psychological support directly linked to the outbreak proved so low that it revised its guidelines.
“During the past two weeks, I’ve only seen one client about the virus. We’ve been asked to go back to responding to general requests,” the social worker continued.
Still, new requests get immediate attention, because the previous waiting list was scrapped. “The clients whom I called to close their file were told not to try asking again until the crisis was over. New requests are jumping the queue ahead of everyone else.”
“For now, we’re managing well the service withdrawal that was imposed on us. But I don’t know what we’ll do when we’re called on to support seniors homes. Any day now, I could be asked to dump my clients on my colleagues, who already are on the verge of overload,” she concluded.