Mental Health during COVID-19

A lot has changed in the past fourteen months. Throughout it all, the Mental Health unit at Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) has been caring for patients in need of care. The team provides a number of services – from inpatient care to outpatient support programs, as well as community partnerships to further support the mental health of those in the region.

QCH’s Mental Health unit team.

Patients are cared for by an interdisciplinary team consisting of Psychiatrists, Registered Nurses, Social Workers, an Occupational Therapist, Recreation Therapist, Psychologist, and a Family Physician.


“We have many modes of service delivery in which we support those with mental illness in our community,” says Sherri Cannon, Clinical Manager of Mental Health. “Our inpatient unit provides a secure, safe, well-staffed and multidisciplinary team approach to provide stabilization to those patients experiencing acute symptoms of mental illness.”

The Mental Health inpatient unit team – while having initially seen a decrease in admissions at the beginning of the pandemic – has been consistently caring for an increased number of patients, many of whom end up staying longer in order to get the care they need. Recently, they’ve seen an increase in patients being affected by of the COVID-19 pandemic and requiring mental health support as a result.

A large part of the care inpatients receive is through the inpatient therapeutic program: our team help them get back to a healthy place to transition back to the community. In alignment with the COVID-19 safety measures, they have successfully maintained group programming in a safe manner over the last year as patients develop routines, practice coping strategies, learn new skills, and start their recovery journey. Additionally, a peer support program in partnership with Psychiatric Survivors of Ottawa (PSO) has been maintained. This program focuses on mental health recovery from a peer perspective and offers unique support to patients. Peers share their individual lived experience in the mental health system and how to navigate the transition to the community.


In light of the pandemic, the outpatient team transitioned to providing virtual and telephone-based care to individuals and redesigned their service to create four new outpatient groups to better support the needs of their patients:

·         The One STEP Transitional Day Treatment program

·         The Working with Emotions group

·         The Integrative Psychotherapy for Psychosis group

·         The Process Psychotherapy program

These new outpatient groups have been designed to better support the needs of individuals presenting to the emergency department, transitioning from the inpatient Mental Health unit, and followed by psychiatrists on an outpatient basis.

The Neuroleptic Medication Clinic continues to serve patients in-person with COVID-19 safety measures in place as it is a high priority for patient care and providing patients the medication they need. The clinic was so successful that a pilot project is being initiated to add further resources and assess the effectiveness of nursing support, ultimately resulting in a decrease of inpatient admissions and/or emergency room visits.


·         Crisis Intervention Service: provides just shy of 100 consultations to patients in the Emergency Department each month, making recommendations on next steps in mental healthcare

·         Consultation Liaison Service: provides consultations to inpatient units across QCH through Psychiatrists and our Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist

“Our entire team works diligently across all our services to support patients and their mental health, whether they require acute care and/or crisis services, specialized services, individual and/or group therapy, peer support, interactional/informational self-help support, or community resources,” says Shruti Patel, Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist. “We work collaboratively as a team to ensure our patient’s mental health is supported and well cared for in all the services we provide, which directly impacts and benefits our patients. We are also working on improving our services and building capacity to better serve our patients within our department and across the organization.”


The demand for mental health services post-COVID-19 will only continue to rise, so the team is excited to see their unit officially start expanding as construction begins on their additional space, which will help them serve their patients more efficiently and effectively.

The QCH Mental Health unit is currently undergoing renovations.

This spring, renovations began on the new Mental Health unit. This project will improve and update the physical environment by renovating two existing floors along with adding a new two storey addition, additional inpatient beds, and expanded outpatient mental health services.The result will be additional and faster access to care in Ottawa so that people can get the support they need when they need it.

This project would not be possible without the overwhelming generosity of our community, who raised a staggering $6 million for our HOPES RISING campaign, in support of a renovated Mental Health unit at QCH. 

“The new build will completely revolutionize our ability to provide state-of-the-art mental healthcare in a beautiful, bright environment that supports the safety of both staff and patients,” says Dr. Marion Malone, Chief of Psychiatry. “With more space, we will be able to run more outpatient groups at a time, provide inpatients with fresh air, and inpatient nurses will be able to more closely observe patients at high risk of harm. We are counting down the months!”