Maple Ridge councillor hoped for more beds at Riverview

Province to build two new mental health facilities on the 244-acre site in Coquitlam.

The big announcement over the long-discussed Riverview lands was a big disappointment for Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse, who’s been involved with the project from the beginning.

The province said Thursday that two new mental health buildings will be built on the 244-acre site in Coquitlam.

Those new buildings will house three programs that will move from Willingdon Avenue in Burnaby – with the net result being only 17 additional mental health beds at a cost of $175 million.

“I was just hoping for something better. I’m disappointed at the number of new beds. It just doesn’t come anywhere near filling the need,” Masse said.

He got involved in the discussion in 2013 after seeing the numbers of homeless and mentally ill in Maple Ridge’s downtown.

He also saw the fallout of the decision in the 1990s to discharge patients from Riverview Hospital, with the immediate effect of people wandering the streets. He led council in calling for Riverview to become a centre of excellence for mental health. The Union of B.C. Municipalities adopted Maple Ridge’s resolution in 2013.

Masse would have liked to have seen another 400 to 500 beds for mental health, to meet the needs of the growing Metro Vancouver population.

When Riverview was open decades ago, it housed a population of between 4,000 and 5,000, he pointed out.

The provincial announcement said the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction will move into one of the new Riverview buildings, a 105-bed facility that will have an addition 17 beds and will cost about $100 million. Opening date is late 2019.

A second building, with 38 beds, will cost $75 million and accommodate the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre and Provincial Assessment Centre, both serving youth. Construction will start next year.

Masse acknowledges that 75 new mental health beds will open at the old Royal Columbian Hospital site in 2019. There’s also a new mental health centre opening in Vancouver General Hospital, with 100 more beds within two years.

In the release, the government says it’s spending $500 million to build 2,100 more supportive housing beds and two years ago announced the creation of another 500 substance-use spaces by 2017.

He’s concerned that the government will only open new beds if it can close others, citing one small mental health residential unit that opened in Maple Ridge, which was followed by the closure of another.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing said the current trend is not to build large facilities as was done in the past.

He cited the other mental health beds planned for around the region.

“They don’t want to have a large, concentrated building like they used to have,” Bing added.

“They found out that there’s an optimal size for these facilities. You may get another 300 or 400, but they’ll be in different communities.”

Bing said the buildings have innovative designs based on best practices and that large buildings aren’t as healthy for patients or staff.

“It’s just what seems to work for this type of facility.”

The buildings will be contained on a three-acre site and there’s plenty of room for more.

“It’s one more step,” he said.

More centres could be built around Metro Vancouver.

“They try to build them close to home for people so they can have access to family.

“That’s the nice thing about them locating in Coquitlam. It’s not far for people in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to get to it. I’m sure we’re going to see more connection between our community and what’s going in Coquitlam.”

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