B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has responded to Vancouver’s request for more support for people with severe, untreated mental illness with an “action plan” that includes a psychiatric unit at St. Paul's hospital and a new outreach team.
During a press conference in Vancouver today (November 20), Lake said the nine- to 12-bed psychiatric assessment and stabilization unit next to St. Paul's emergency department will be established within the next 120 days.
In that time period, B.C. will also fund the creation of a new “Assertive Outreach Team” to serve patients in the Downtown Eastside, in addition to two new Assertive Community Treatment Teams. An implementation committee, including senior officials from the Ministry of Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, B.C. Housing, the Vancouver Police Department, and the City of Vancouver, will also be established to develop longer-term measures.
Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson called today’s announcement “an important next step” in the city’s efforts to deal with what it calls a growing crisis of severe, untreated mental illnesses.
“I’m very pleased to see this action,” said Robertson. “The stories that I’ve seen over the past five years and the statistics that we’ve grappled with have been very troubling to say the least.”
The mayor added that a longer-term plan to address the issue is critical.
“There’s some immediate actions that address the crisis, but we’ll need to follow through on those next steps and ensure we’re stabilizing as many of the 300-odd people who are at highest risk as urgently as possible,” he said.
Lake said one of the issues that will be studied is the need for long-term care beds for some mental-health patients. The City of Vancouver and Vancouver police made a series of recommendations to the province in September, including 300 mental-health treatment beds.
“There may very well be patients who can, with intensive case management, be managed very well in the community,” said Lake. “But…there may very well be some who do need to have long-term secure housing. So I think it’s wrong to put the number first before you get the evidence that leads you there. This will certainly, I think, allow the system to react in the short term while we develop that evidence as necessary.”
The province is spending $5 million on the immediate measures this fiscal year. Next year, the ministry will provide an estimated $20 million to all health authorities as part of a provincial approach to mental health.
Other measures announced today include a new six-bed inpatient facility and five new group homes, including one designed specifically for youth.
Robertson noted the measures announced today are targeted at a small group of people with severe, untreated mental illnesses.
"The population that we are talking about today is a small subset," he said. "It’s a group of people suffering from severe mental illness, in conjunction often times with an addiction. In Vancouver, the VPD estimate is around 300 people who are at highest risk right now and need treatment, need secure housing and support."