Study shows gaps in inpatient psychiatry for Ontario youth

Posted on Thursday, February 20, 2014

Results of a first of its kind benchmarking survey to evaluate the state of inpatient psychiatry programs and services for youth at hospitals across Ontario were published today in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. They show that the province's services are comparable to programs around the world, helping youth with the most severe and complex mental health problems.  However, across the province, they also show the same signs of inconsistency as programs elsewhere in the types and quality of inpatient care.

“There is no rhyme or reason for these discrepancies throughout the province,” said co-author Stephanie Greenham,  clinical professor at the University of Ottawa School of Psychology  and psychologist and clinical researcher at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). “The planning and staffing of inpatient psychiatry units appears locally determined, but as the demand for mental health services skyrockets, youth and families' needs would seem to be better met by adopting a more organized and systematic approach to inpatient care.”

Twenty-five hospital-based programs specifically for children and youth requiring hospitalization for a mental health crisis responded to this first provincial benchmarking study of its kind to describe unit characteristics, services and patient characteristics. Data were collected for a one year period, and included information from the Ontario Network of Child and Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry Services (ONCAIPS) directory and the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) website.

Respondents identified suicide risk as the most prevalent problem precipitating admission to inpatient services, while all programs admitted youth with mood, anxiety and psychotic disorders. Services were predominantly geared toward brief, acute crises rather than longer term, planned treatment, and the majority of admissions were for adolescents rather than children. There was inequality across programs in access to psychiatric care, availability of interdisciplinary staffing, admission criteria, types of treatments provided, rates of involuntary admissions and tracking of clinical outcomes.

“The study findings confirm that inpatient services are an important and valuable component in Ontario's continuum of mental health services, particularly for children and adolescents with the most severe risks and problems,” said co-author Joseph Persi, psychologist at the North Bay Regional Health Centre in Sudbury and adjunct professor at Laurentian University. “The study leaves us with areas for improvement but also some unanswered questions. One of the most important of these questions, in light of surging admission rates, is ‘Are there ways that we can address problems earlier in a manner that reduces the need for hospitalization?'”

ONCAIPS is advocating for provincial best practice standards and planning to help improve access, service quality and staffing consistency across Ontario. Its steering committee will draft guidelines for review at its annual general meeting in Ottawa in October 2014.

About the University of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in the world, one where students can study in English, in French, or in both languages. Located in the capital of Canada, a G8 nation, we are committed to research excellence and encourage an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge creation. Our breakthroughs in health, science, social sciences and the humanities attract global attention, reflecting our ranking among Canada's top 10 research universities and our ongoing drive to discover.

About CHEO and the CHEO Research Institute

The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is one of the largest providers of child and youth mental health services in Ontario, and sees more pediatric mental health crisis visits than any other hospital in the province. CHEO offers a broad range of both hospital and community-based services for children and youth (aged 0 – 18) and their families — spanning prevention and early intervention to more intensive diagnostic and treatment services.  CHEO is also home to internationally-recognized researchers in the field of mental health, eating disorders and outcomes management. Their research has helped shape clinical programs at CHEO and beyond.

The CHEO Research Institute coordinates the research activities of CHEO and is affiliated with the University of Ottawa. Its three programs of research include molecular biomedicine, health information technology, and evidence to practice research. Key themes include cancer, diabetes, obesity, mental health, emergency medicine, musculoskeletal health, electronic health information and privacy, and genetics of rare disease. The CHEO Research Institute makes discoveries today for healthier kids tomorrow. For more information, visit

About the North Bay Regional Health Centre

The North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC) is a unique healthcare organization in Northeastern Ontario. It provides acute care services to North Bay and surrounding communities, it is the district referral centre providing specialist services for smaller communities in the area, it is the specialized mental health service provider serving all of northeast Ontario, and it provides support for a regionally dispersed inpatient treatment beds. NBRHC is a research and teaching centre for students in medicine, psychiatry, nursing and allied health professions. NBRHC is affiliated with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Nipissing University, Canadore College and several other Ontario colleges and universities.

Information for media

Kina Leclair
Media Relations Officer
Office: 613-562-5800 ext. 2529
Cell: 613-762-2908

Adrienne Vienneau
CHEO Research Institute
Direct: 613-737-7600 ext. 4144
Cell: 613-513-8437

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