During the past five years, mental-health and addiction problems have simultaneously intensified in Vancouver, and to shocking extents.
In 2015, there were 505 illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C., more than double the number from five years earlier.
At the same time, the number of apprehensions Vancouver police made under the provincial Mental Health Act increased from 2,276 in 2010 to 4,713 in 2015.
Every level of government is bolstering programs to meet these challenges. In the Downtown Eastside, where they are most acute, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has gone so far as to announce not one but two new health centres for the area.
The first, scheduled to open early next year, is called Connections and will stand on Powell Street just east of Oppenheimer Park.
Dr. Evan Wood is medical director of VCH community addictions services. In a telephone interview, he said the facility will function as a one-stop shop for people seeking to overcome drug and alcohol issues, with a goal to eliminate barriers that prevent people from getting clean.
“When people are motivated, that’s when you want to be able to offer addictions services,” Wood told the Straight. “And so this clinic is meant to be very low-threshold, so people can come, without an appointment, and be seen by a health-care team focused on addiction care.”
From there, he said the goal will be to transition patients to a long-term service provider, including options outside the Downtown Eastside. Connections will also have a pharmacy on site and function as a teaching clinic.
“It’s meant to be a specialized node for addiction care where the door is open for crisis management,” Wood said. “With a really highly skilled staff with relationships beyond that clinic.”
The second of the two new health-care facilities was only announced on October 6 and remains in the early planning stages. It’s proposed for a vacant lot at 58 West Hastings Street that the city wants to develop with a large mixed-use social-housing complex.
VCH’s mental-health and addiction programs in the Downtown Eastside are overseen by Andrew MacFarlane, operations director of community health services (inner city–east). He said the building planned for 58 West Hastings will prioritize mental-health, substance-use, and primary-care services.
It will also serve as a home base for two VCH “integrated care teams” that will be relocated from other clinics in the Downtown Eastside, MacFarlane continued. He discussed those teams as part of a new model favoured by VCH where general practitioners work alongside social workers, nurses, and peer navigators to deliver interdisciplinary care for people with mental-health and addictions issues.
“It’s integrated care,” he emphasized. “It’s not going to be siloed.”
VCH also recently announced the locations of two new low-barrier supervised-injection sites. Those are proposed for 528 Powell Street and 330 Heatley Street. In addition, it has expanded hours at the city’s existing injection site, Insite. That facility, at 139 East Hastings Street, is now open 24 hours during the three days a month following welfare-cheque issuance. A fourth, women-only site for intravenous-drug users is also in the works but still without a proposed address.