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Maple Ridge council calls for Riverview Hospital to reopen
Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse remembers the fallout from the mental health strategy, launched by the NDP in the 1990s, which saw the discharge of many patients from Riverview Hospital. The effects were immediate.
Masse was on the Maple Ridge community health commission then and saw the jump in the number of mentally ill people wandering the streets – even showing up in his chiropractic office still wearing underwear labelled Riverview Hospital.
“It drastically changed the landscape of our province in terms of the presence of mentally ill people on our streets. We saw it in health care immediately,” Masse said Tuesday.
The idea was to empty the large buildings and care for the mentally ill in smaller facilities, closer to where they lived. But nothing was built to replace the psychiatric hospitals.
Masse believes it’s time to reinstate Riverview Hospital as a “Centre of Excellence for Mental Health Care and Support” and save millions of dollars in the process.
His idea won Maple Ridge council’s support and at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association. Now, the resolution will be on the agenda of the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting, Sept. 16 to 20 in Vancouver.
And just because it’s passed at UBCM, it doesn’t mean the provincial government will agree and find the dollars to expand the grounds.
Some facilities for the mentally ill continue to operate there.
Many buildings at Riverview Hospital along the Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam could be easily reopened.
“It is going to save them a ton of money,” he said.
There are huge costs in dealing with the mentally ill through police response or visits to the local hospital. There actually is no argument that reactivating more of Riverview would be cheaper on the public purse, he adds.
“It’s so much more expensive,” to treat mentally ill without such a centre. You need to have centres of excellence to treat serious illnesses whether it’s cardiac or cancer. That’s where you concentrate the experts in the field.”
Before he pushed the idea, Masse contacted Coquitlam council, which also supports the resolution and wants to see a “Campus of Care” at Riverview.
Masse said according to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, there should be 50 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population. B.C. only has 38.
That’s the lowest number of beds in Western Canada where the average is 48 psychiatric beds per 100,000. Yet, he says B.C. spends more per capita on mental health than the prairie provinces.
He agreed, most people would stay at an expanded Riverview voluntarily. “The notion that we’re going to lock people up and it’s going to be like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is just not the reality.”
According to the Ministry of Health though research shows that people respond better in smaller, community-based facilities. People staying at Riverview were separated from families and friends, it says.
“Government has worked with health authorities to create facilities throughout the province with the appropriate supports, treatment and services.”
The ministry also has spent $138 million on mental health facilities around B.C., with 715 beds opened for the mentally ill in 2012.
It says since 2001, annual mental health spending has jumped by 58 per cent to $1.3 billion.