Dr. Patrick J. White Nominated for Induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Dr. Patrick J. White, Medical Director of Alberta Hospital Edmonton (AHE) and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alberta for the past 26 years, has been nominated for induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF).

01 June 2019

Dr. Patrick J. White, Medical Director of Alberta Hospital Edmonton (AHE) and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alberta for the past 26 years, has been nominated for induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF).

Dr. Xin-Min Li, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, submitted Dr. White's nomination on behalf of the department in early June.

The London, Ont.-based CMHF, founded in 1994, recognizes and celebrates the work of Canadian physicians, researchers, policy makers and others who have made significant contributions in such fields as health education and promotion, illness prevention and care, scientific research, and the success of healthcare organizations.

A maximum of six individuals are inducted into the CMHF each year. The inductions for 2019 will be announced in October.

"Over the course of his long and distinguished medical career, Dr. White has served in a variety of prominent leadership roles. He has been President of the Alberta Medical Association, President of the Alberta Psychiatric Association, President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry," says Dr. Li.

"In these roles and many others - including in his current position as Medical Director of Alberta Hospital Edmonton, a post he has held since 2012 - Dr. White has consistently advanced the cause of mental health education, treatment and improved access to services since he arrived in Alberta from his native Ireland in 1989. In recognition of his long and impressive career, it is my pleasure and privilege to nominate Dr. White for this prestigious honour."

Under Dr. White's leadership, and as chronicled in previous issues of Connections, AHE has embarked on a wide-ranging, multi-year renewal initiative known as Ambition 2023.

Developed in close partnership with senior leadership at Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Department of Psychiatry, Ambition 2023 is aimed at making AHE more relevant, responsive and effective in serving individuals and families in the Edmonton region who are grappling with complex addictions and mental health challenges.

The new Addictions and Mental Health Edmonton Day Hospital at AHE, which opened its doors in January, is the first of several important initiatives planned or underway as part of Ambition 2023 that will have a major, positive impact on the availability and breadth of vital mental health services.

The Day Hospital, the first of its kind in Northern Alberta, offers seven-day-a-week daytime programming for acutely ill patients, offering an alternative to inpatient hospitalization and providing group and individualized support for an average term of three weeks.

Other key elements of Ambition 2023 include improvements in:

Neuropsychiatry & Neuropsychology: Under the Edmonton Neuro-Cognitive Disorders Enterprise, AHE's clinicians are addressing gaps in diagnostic, treatment and monitoring services for those whose psychiatric disorders are linked to cerebral pathology.

Tertiary Care in Psychiatry: Physicians and staff are working to realign rehabilitation treatment, programming and clinical processes to better meet the challenging needs of those with intellectual disabilities and/or mental health issues.

Targeting Treatment-Resistant Psychosis: AHS Addiction and Mental Health and the Department of Psychiatry are working jointly with AHE on an evidence-based holistic treatment for treatment-resistant psychosis.

Research and teaching are also central themes of Ambition 2023, with direct linkages to the Department of Psychiatry and other academic partners. For example, Alberta's first EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) pilot program targeting inpatients with suicidal thoughts is now underway at AHE.

Dr. Lisa Burback, Consultant Psychiatrist, Young Adult Services at AHE and an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, launched the project in February in partnership with AHS Young Adult Services and AHE (for details, see separate story in this issue of Connections).

"In addition to serving as Medical Director at AHE, where I often work as a psychiatrist, Dr. White maintains a busy clinical practice. He has also been Clinical Lead for AHE's Hope & Wellness Day Program; Outpatient Psychiatrist at the Edmonton Mental Health Clinic; and Consulting Psychiatrist at the Northgate Primary Care Network," notes Dr. Adam Abba-Aji, Associate Chair (Clinical Affairs) in the Department of Psychiatry, and Facility Site Chief, Addiction & Mental Health, University of Alberta Hospital.

Dr. Abba-Aji and Dr. Pierre Chue, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, and Medical Advisor, Mental Health Strategic Initiatives with AHS, wrote separate letters of support for Dr. White's nomination to the CMHF.

"Another major contribution to AHE during Dr. White's tenure as Medical Director has been his ongoing campaign to recruit talented psychiatrists from around the world, while also mentoring locally trained psychiatry residents, some of whom now occupy senior leadership roles in Alberta," Dr. Abba-Aji adds.

"As a result of his efforts, the hospital now has an extremely diverse, multicultural team of psychiatrists who bring complementary and unique perspectives to the field of mental health treatment. This has enriched all of us, including both patients and staff."

The CMHF's past inductees include globally renowned hepatitis researcher Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, who was inducted in 2011; and former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who founded the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. He was inducted in 2001.

Ambition 2023 is just the latest example of the many progressive mental health programs and policies spearheaded by Dr. White over the years.

Following the tragic shooting death of RCMP Corporal James Galloway by Martin Ostopovich in 2004, Dr. White was called as an expert witness in the subsequent public fatality inquiry. Mr. Ostopovich had a long history of mental illness and antipathy toward police officers.

During his testimony, Dr. White made several key recommendations that the inquiry's presiding judge adopted, including a recommendation that the province amend the Mental Health Act to permit for the issuance of Community Treatment Orders (CTOs).

Such orders give a supervising psychiatrist the power to reevaluate a patient who is noncompliant in taking prescribed medications following discharge, and if necessary, certify the patient's readmission to hospital.

In 2007, under then Alberta Health Minister Dave Hancock, the government of Alberta amended the Mental Health Act to allow CTOs to be used when appropriate.

Later, after he was named Medical Director at AHE in 2012, Dr. White supported and encouraged the launch by Dr. Adam Abba-Aji of the Young Adults Acute Unit. It was the first such specialized unit of its kind in Canada at that time, and it has subsequently been embraced as a model by hospitals in other provinces.

Perhaps most inspiring of all, Dr. White's strong leadership at AHE, and the key role he has played in spearheading the revitalization of this almost century-old institution, follows one of the darkest chapters in its history.

In 2009, then-AHS President and CEO Stephen Duckett announced plans to close 250 of the hospital's beds and relocate patients back into the community. The abrupt decision triggered a wave of anxiety among hospital staff, widespread protests and a media firestorm.

At the time, Dr. White served as clinical director of mental health services at AHS, reporting directly to Mr. Duckett, an economist from Australia who was intent on cutting costs. That placed Dr. White directly between the public, patients, the media, mental health professionals, and his own boss at AHS.

The respect the community had for Dr. White - who publicly vowed that there would be no reduction in services for the mentally ill under his watch - helped to calm the waters. His grasp of the issues and profound understanding of the complexities and costs associated with delivering quality mental health services carried the day.

"The idea that you can do community care on the cheap doesn't hold. You have to spend the money," he told the Edmonton Journal newspaper in 2009, as the controversy swirled around him. "That's my job to advocate for those resources."

In November of 2010, Mr. Duckett and AHS parted ways and his controversial plan to cut beds at AHE was abruptly shelved.