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Global News (Oct 16): NB experiencing significant shortage of public sector psychologists

There is a significant shortage of psychologists working in the public sector, which is limiting access to mental health support for low-income families, according to the College of Psychologists of New Brunswick.

“It’s alarming to me,” said Mary Ann Campbell, president-elect of the College of Psychologists of New Brunswick.

Global News has discovered there are at least 31 unfilled psychologist positions within the Department of Health, Education and Mental Health in New Brunswick.

“We need to do something about it because what we are doing right now isn’t being effective,” said Campbell.

She says the staff shortage of psychologists working in the public sector could, at least in part, be contributing to longer wait times and proper diagnosis for people with complex mental illnesses.

“Having people with that skill set is essential for efficient and effective service delivery in the mental health sector,” she said.

More psychologists choosing private practice over public sector

In response, the New Brunswick Department of Health says the problem is not isolated to the province.

“According to the Canadian Psychologists Association, there is a shortage of psychologists working in the public sector across Canada, not just in New Brunswick,” said communications officer Paul Bradley in an email statement.

“As of July 2017, there are a total of 25 public sector vacancies for psychology positions across New Brunswick. This includes both hospital psychology services and community mental health services.”

Bradley goes on to say that psychologists are choosing instead to go into private practice.

Campbell agrees and says 59 per cent of her members operate their own private practices, partially because they can generate more income. In New Brunswick, she says psychologists working in the public sector are paid up to $20,000 less per year than those working in Nova Scotia.

“Salary is part of the picture, as is the working conditions,” she said.

She is currently conducting a survey with her members to determine why many psychologists are shying away from working in the public sector. But she says that a lack of funding for up-to-date psychological testing and a lack of internship support have already been flagged as deterrents.

“We certainly want to have those positions filled because the more resources a client has to draw from, the greater the potential for a positive outcome,” she said.

Low-income families affected by shortage

Campbell says families without access to private health insurance are most affected by the staff shortages.

“That would, by nature, be the lower-income families,” she said.

Moncton’s Stephanie Chenard has been struggling with depression for most of her life. Back when she had no health insurance coverage, she spent months trying to see a psychologist through the public health system and she believes the shortage of psychologists is going to extend wait times even further.

“If you have money, you can get great health care but if you don’t, it is going to be a struggle,” Chenard said.

The province says it is offering recruitment incentives and is looking into hiring more interns, but made no commitment to an increase in pay for psychologists.

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