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Expanded mental health services tops list of needs for Central Health Advisory Council

Lacombe Express - 1/11/2019

Mental health was listed as a priority during a meeting between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Central Zone Health Advisory Council (HAC) at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre

"I think mental health is probably the biggest concern, not only in the Central Zone, but across the province," Sandy Doze, chair of the David Thompson Health Advisory Council, said. "It is about access to services. We are hoping that with the zone health care plan, we will have some input on how those services expand."

The HAC, which serves as a link between communities and AHS, host public meetings and consultations in order to gauge how Albertans are viewing health and health care in their province. From the feedback received by council members, Doze said that mental health topped the list — followed by the need for expanded access to specialists; access to transportation to and from hospitals and enhanced continuing care service.

The meetings allow the community to not only advocate for further funding and expanded service, but also to learn about how they can access services already available in the community

"We also listen to them regarding the troubles they are having accessing services so that Alberta Health Services can direct improvements in those areas," Doze said. "Some of it is about more funding and some of it is about getting information out about how people can access service and also where to go. That helps AHS decide where they can maybe move services to where it is needed more."

She added that mental health is one area that could always use more funding in the Central Zone.

One of the successes of the Central Zone HAC was the development of the new public health facility currently being constructed in Lacombe and also the Red Deer Regional Hospital being put back on the priority infrastructure list by the province.

"They are both things we have been advocating for and the community really needs," Doze said. "In Lacombe — where they are adding the new building — they have had a lot of community input on what should be there and how it would make it more easy to access services. I think that is a positive step."

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Overall, Doze characterized the HAC's relationship with AHS as developing in a positive direction.

"We have been building over the last three to four years and now we have a good relationship with AHS's leadership both locally and provincially," she said. "We report directly to the AHS board, so our feedback we get in the Central Zone goes both to central planning and also to the overall AHS planning."

She stressed it is important for council members to gain as much community input as possible so that needed information can be relayed to AHS.

"We try to get our council members to go out into the communities and talk with the organizations, physicians, the primary care networks, the churches and the service groups so that we have their input," she said. "We hold public meetings in different areas to get feedback. We want to get an understanding what the communities' views are on health and the health system.

"What we need to do is get our voice out to the different communities. We want people to realize we are here and that we are a conduit to get their voices heard."

To get involved, members of the public can log on to AHS website and search for the health advisory council link.

"They can also call any AHS facility and ask them how to get in touch with us," Doze said.