Mental-health unit for youths to open at HOpe Centre in North Vancouver

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      Lions Gate Hospital has secured funding for a new treatment unit for youths who struggle with mental-health or substance-use issues.

      The announcement came Wednesday morning (March 30) from Health Minister Terry Lake. The facility will open at the HOpe Centre for mental health and addiction, which is located in North Vancouver.

      “Almost every family I know is touched by mental-health issues,” Lake said speaking to reporters. “This new centre at the HOpe Centre will really fill a gap, and we need to do more of that.”

      The 10-bed unit will accommodate youths aged 13 to 18 and will focus on assessment and stabilization, providing average stays between 14 and 20 days.

      Tanis Evans is manager of child and youth mental health and addictions at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the facility's operator. In a telephone interview, she said that the new unit will be used to allow doctors to assess whether or not  patients require longer-term treatment on an outpatient basis while living at home.

      “They won't likely have all their treatment with us, but we will start treatment,” she said. “A large part of their admission is around the whole piece of work that is done around discharge and planning for treatment post-hospitalization.”

      Evans added that assessments will help determine what a patient’s treatment plan will look like and what their needs will be.

      “That will be different for every youth,” she said.

      To help stabilize patients, the unit was designed as a welcoming safe space. Evans described it as comfortable and homelike, with nonbreakable glass windows, open light, and soft edges on furniture.

      “You really want to provide an environment where a person, if they're feeling very distraught, they're not able to harm themselves,” she said. “ You don't want to have glass where they can cut themselves, or glass that they can break and then cut themselves.”

      Evans stressed the importance of having appropriate levels of staff, which includes overnight nurses, so there is time and attention for each patient.  She said the unit will have a higher staff ratio compared to adult units, with 2.5 youth patients to one nurse, in addition to social workers and psychiatrists.

      “We will have at least two staff on at all times at night,” she said.

      In a separate interview, VCH CEO Darrell Burnham acknowledged a potential concern for the small number of beds. But he said that operating a smaller unit has its advantages, including allowing it be more focussed where individual needs will more likely be able to be met.

      “It's really important that it's a therapeutic experience,” he told the Straight. “The likelihood of the young people coming through the other side are much more stable with a good treatment plan and, hopefully, supports where they're landing will be really helpful.”

      Funding for the unit comes with assistance from donors Jack and Leone Carlile, who gave $2 million of $4.7 million in capital costs. The Lions Gate Hospital Foundation raised the remaining capital costs. The province will cover the annual $3.1-million operating costs through VCH.

      Opened in 2014, the HOpe Centre provides mental-health and addiction services to patients in hospital and outpatient services.

      The new unit is expected to open in the spring of 2017.

      Follow Jocelyn Aspa on Twitter @jocelynaspa