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Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Thanks to you, for the first time at an AHS Calgary facility, families are now benefiting from the assistance of teen and parent peer support workers.

In the Fall of 2020, a three-person team trained and guided by experts at the Canadian Mental Health Association began supporting families in the Alberta Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. On duty Monday to Saturday from 9am to 9pm, they are uniquely qualified to help reduce anxiety, stress and uncertainty for families.

“The peer support workers offer a lens that differs from the mental health professionals. Their lived experience, their resiliency and desire to help others benefits not only the kids and families, but the entire Psychiatric Emergency team,” says Carol Coventry, program manager. “They offer a steady hand while kids and families are in crisis and waiting in the Emergency department.”

“We are here to listen, empathize with, and walk alongside patients and families, advocating, empowering and building resilience,” says peer support worker Jason Adair. “We use our own lived experience in mental health recovery to emotionally support patients and their families as they navigate their journey through the healthcare system.”

The team has developed coping skills/activity kits for children waiting for assessment or hospital admission. These kits help young people tell their stories and begin to look at developing goals for themselves.

In addition to providing front-line support, the new team is also part of an important research project which will help to inform and develop the peer support program at the new Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health.

Peer support has been shown to result in improved outcomes for clients, decreased visits to the emergency department, and increased engagement with primary care support. The team hopes to add two more members this summer who will support families beyond the Emergency department and into the community with Acute at Home.

Crews are busy working as construction on the Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health continues.

The portion of the hill where the Centre is being built has been contoured and stabilized. The decommissioned detention centre on the south side of the property has been demolished and removed. As well, the surrounding lot has been graded and leveled, enabling surface parking and driveways to be installed.

Like so many things in our world right now, the build is experiencing delays.

Late last year it was discovered that the shoring wall installed after site excavation was not holding. The project team determined that a new solution to the shoring wall stabilization and wall replacement would be required.

Work slowed while the team finalized design for a new “secant” shoring wall, which is better suited for the challenging conditions of the site. There will be no impact to the construction budget.

While the team is doing everything possible to seek opportunities to accelerate the schedule, the construction completion date of the Centre is currently expected to occur in summer of 2022, with first patients expected to be seen in the late fall.

Until then, AHS continues to enhance other mental health services for families, including several made possible by generous donors to the Build Them Up campaign, including specialized outreach services, peer support for kids, teens and families seeking help in the Alberta Children’s Hospital Emergency Department, special training for physicians and front line care providers, mental health literacy for students and teachers, and non-invasive brain stimulation to help young people with depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and eating disorders.

Over the next few months, we will share with you a series of stories about how these enhancements are changing lives here in Calgary and beyond, thanks to your support. Today we want to update you on the successes the Acute at Home outreach service has seen over the last year.

Acute at Home adapts for kids and families in crisis

Thanks to you, the Acute at Home outreach service has been able to provide families with crucial support and therapy during the pandemic.

Acute at Home delivers intensive mental health care for children and teens in their homes and communities with the goal to prevent hospitalizations.

With the initial lockdown last spring, specialists were limited in their ability to meet with young people and families in person. Meanwhile, families were very anxious at first about going into the Emergency Department for care. Immediately, the team switched to virtual care to ensure that families in urgent need of support received it in the safest, most efficient way possible.

“We are so grateful to the community for helping us get this program up and running,” says program manager Carol Coventry. “The team didn’t skip a beat in responding to the new reality and families are appreciating the timely care tailored to their needs.”

Delivering therapy via video conference has enabled Acute at Home to become the most active service of the AHS Calgary Child and Adolescent Addictions and Mental Health Psychiatry Program (CAAMHPP) since the pandemic hit.

With travel time no longer required and many parents more available, because they are working from home, the team has been able to see nearly 50 percent more families than before.

Over the summer, virtual group sessions were provided for teens and families. Today, some forms of in-home therapy have resumed with therapists in PPE. Appointments are also being offered more frequently for shorter periods of time. Most families are being referred to the program through the Emergency Department at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

Thanks to forward-thinking donors like you, what began in 2013 as a pilot project to integrate mental health concepts and language into local high school curriculum has grown into an invaluable mental health resource accessed by young people and families not only here, but around the world!

Watch this video that shows the incredible impact of your support.

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