The city has published its first report on mental health and addiction nearly one year to the day that Mayor Gregor Robertson stood beside Vancouver police chief Jim Chu to ask higher levels of government for support in addressing those issues.
Robertson used the report’s publication to reiterate calls for assistance.
“Untreated mental illness and addictions continues to be an issue that our City confronts, whether it’s through our social services, policing, or schools,” he said, quoted in a media release. “Through the work of the Task Force, the City is committed to mobilizing the support of stakeholders and senior levels of government to address the challenge of mental illness and addictions, and help our most vulnerable residents get the support they need.”
The document released this morning (September 10) summarizes work conducted by the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions since it was formed in September 2013. It then identifies 23 “priority actions” divided into six categories that together comprise a strategy for how the province and regional institutions should work together to better address mental-health care needs.
Those priorities are: working together and addressing service gaps, a peer-informed system, de-stigmatization, focusing on youth, focusing on wellness for aboriginal peoples, and enhancing addictions knowledge.
The report states that through phase one of the task force’s work, there was a strong consensus around identifying those areas as priorities.
“Phase 2 will include implementing short-term actions, further scoping of actions, the assignment of key leaders, and implementation strategies, with a report back to Mayor and Council next summer,” the report reads.
The document also provides an update on four recommendations that the mayor, police, and Vancouver Coastal Health outlined in a September 2013 letter to Premier Christy Clark.
It was suggested that support for mentally ill individuals be increased through Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, which provide psychiatric care to people living in communities. The province responded by providing funding for an additional two ACT teams (bringing the total operating in Vancouver up to five) and by funding an Inner-City Youth Intensive Care Management Team.
The province also acted on a recommendation that it create an enhanced form of urgent care in Vancouver. There is now a nine-bed acute behavioral stabilization unit at St. Paul’s Hospital, and an Assertive Outreach Team was established to manage individuals’ transitions from a hospital to a community.
The province has not acted on a recommendation that it add 300 beds for long-term psychiatric care for patients experiencing more complicated mental-health challenges.
Also left unaddressed was a suggestion that the province increase staffing at supportive housing sites to accommodate patients with severe addictions and mental health issues.
In November 2013, the provincial government responded to the mayor and police chief’s initial call for help by making $26 million of new funding available for mental-health and addiction services. The province also produced its own “120-day” plan designed to address patients with complex mental-health needs.
The mayor’s report highlights statistics that Robertson and Chu have reiterated publicly on several occasions.
It notes that from 2009 to 2013, Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital together registered a 43-percent increase in emergency mental-health visits, and that in 2013, the VPD reported an 18-percent increase over the previous year in apprehensions made under the Mental Health Act.
According to the report, Vancouver is home to an estimated 2,000 SRO tenants who are “severely ill” and receiving no care for mental-health issues or problems related to addiction. In addition, roughly two-thirds of the city’s homeless population is identified as requiring mental health and addiction support that those individuals are not receiving.
Chasing a crisis
Through September 2014 the Straight ran a series of articles exploring how Vancouver cares for the severely mentally ill.
Part one: Vancouver police still seeking help to prevent a mental-health crisis
Part two: Amid a mental-health crisis, Vancouver care providers revisit the debate on institutionalization
Part three: Vancouver service providers fail to get ahead of a mental-health crisis
Part four: B.C. prisons lock mentally-ill offenders in isolation