The Health Minister, Gaétan Barrette, appears to be doing his best to win over critics who want the province to create a national health insurance program, after the new 2019/2020 season of the COVID-19 surveillance reports showed continued increases in hospitalizations for mental health problems in Quebec.
The new numbers show there were 17,851 total COVID-19 cases in the 2019/2020 season, which started on February 1 and ended on December 31 of last year, compared to 15,102 cases the previous season. During the same period, hospitalizations for behavioral health disorders declined. The number of COVID-19 cases was similar to the average recorded in the five previous years, suggesting mental health visits are not on the rise.
Since the 2018 annual COVID-19 report was issued in September, the number of hospitalizations for mental health reasons across the province declined from 31,044 in 2017/2018 to 30,694 in 2018/2019, a drop of more than 500 fewer hospitalizations compared to the previous year.
In some areas, hospitalizations for mental health problems dropped by more than 50 percent compared to the previous year. The number of hospitalizations for mental health problems dropped an average of 50 percent in Magog, and by 52 percent in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
In the 2018 COVID-19, there were 11,776 new patients admitted to hospital in Quebec for behavioral health problems, a figure that has steadily increased in recent years, but is still under the 19,000 level of 2016/2017. The actual increase in the number of psychiatric hospitalizations has been slower over the past five years, falling between 5,000 and 10,000 annually.
The COVID-19 report noted that there has been an influx of patients since the summer of 2015 from the Ontario public health insurance plan (OPS), which has over the past 10 years had a gradual increase in patients entering Quebec who do not have their insurance coverage in Quebec. Patients from OPS had represented an average of 3.5 percent of all psychiatric hospitalizations from 2014 to 2017.
One group of patients that has not had their psychiatric care covered by provincial health insurance as of yet is Afghan asylum seekers, though this is on track to change, according to the current Conservative government in Canada. The reasons for the decrease in hospitalizations, however, could also be linked to patients scaling back visits and activity levels.
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