Mayor calls out provincial government for not doing its part in mental health
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
The discussion of mental health was everywhere on January 25, #BellLetsTalk Day, and the discussion has echoed in local municipalities. Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart suggested that a strong move to improve mental health—especially for those suffering from substance abuse—could be to reopen Riverview Hospital, which opened its doors in 1913 and closed them in 2012.
The province announced plans to demolish the existing hospital and rebuild a community site that would house three mental health programs in 2015. Yet very little action has been taken towards that plan, and Stewart claims that the province is not doing enough to alleviate a mental health crisis.
For one, reopening Riverview wouldn’t require spending time and resources needed to make new buildings. Money could be spent towards refurbishing the existing hospital and improving care and services. It could also mean that help would be more quickly available for those who need it.
“We really want to help folks who have an addiction. Folks who step up and say ‘I need help here’ would be able to get that help on demand right now,” Stewart said to CBC.
The opioid and fentanyl crisis was cited as a problem that needs to be urgently alleviated. A public health emergency was declared on the crisis back in April 2016.
In response to the crisis, the government has been increasing the number of supervised injections sites and increasing the availability of substance treatment drugs for those who require them. However, the availability of in-patient treatment facilities is low.
“The loss of Riverview’s specialized, long-term treatment capability has led to an increased number of highly unstable individuals living in the community,” Dr. John Higenbottam, former vice-president at Riverview Hospital, said in a 2014 report.
Michael Krausz, a psychiatry professor at UBC, didn’t seem to think that reopening Riverview would be the most effective use of provincial resources, but did agree with Stewart that more care is needed, and quickly.
“We have waiting times across the board in terms of treatment capacity; it’s nearly impossible to see a psychiatrist, it takes time to go into detox […] I fully support the mayor’s notion of treatment on demand,” Krausz said to CBC.
The provincial government responded to Stewart’s suggestion, and seemingly dismissed reopening the hospital for the time being.
“We appreciated the mayor’s suggestion and want to assure him and British Columbians that we are investing in the continuum of mental health and substance use supports,” said a government spokesperson to The Globe and Mail after neither Health Minister Terry Lake nor Housing Minister Rich Coleman could be reached.