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Coquitlam lauds support for re-opening Riverview
Support from B.C.'s mayors to re-open Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam for mental health purposes could influence provincial government plans for the 244-acre property, bringing care for people with severe mental illness and economic benefits to the city.
At least that's the hope of Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, chair of the Riverview Lands Advisory Committee, who this week welcomed a resolution by Maple Ridge council to re-open the 100-year-old hospital that was closed just last summer.
Hodge said the timing of the resolution — prepared for the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention from Sept. 16 to 20 — couldn't be better as the province is currently planning for the future of the Riverview lands.
"The UBCM is a great place to start a dialogue and draw attention at the municipal level," said Hodge, who noted that many provincial initiatives start with discussions at the annual September convention that draws mayors and councillors from all over the province.
Little has been heard from the province since it drew up a heritage conservation plan and presented it last November but Hodge said work is going on behind the scenes to draw up a plan for the publicly owned property.
"What we are going to see in the next year or so is we're going to get an idea of the provincial government's vision for the plan," he said, noting the process is necessary to protect or even re-purpose some of the buildings on site that are in a state of disrepair.
Riverview was closed in 2012 after a gradual shutdown over 10 years, with the goal of moving people back to their own community for mental health care.
Although the buildings are being at least minimally looked after, the grass is no longer being cut on a regular basis, although it's supposed to be mowed in time for the annual Treefest on Sept. 14.
But for Metro Vancouver municipalities, the closure of Riverview has resulted in more people with severe mental illnesses not getting the the help they need.
In its resolution, Maple Ridge council stated that services aren't being delivered as "efficiently" as they once were so municipal governments are having to fill in the gaps, including paying for police to deal with people who have mental health concerns.
One of the problems is that, left on their own, people with the most severe mental illnesses don't seek out care.
Fraser Health is trying to deal with that in the Tri-Cities and New Westminster with its new Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, which works specifically with people needing the highest level of care who won't go to clinics.
"These are the most complex clients. They tend to have a combination of mental health and substance-use issues — not all, but many — and they tend to have fallen through the cracks because of the traditional model of expecting clients to come back to the office," a Fraser Health spokesperson told the Tri-City News when the service was introduced in February.
Fraser Health also manages three facilities on Riverview for people needing specialized services.
But Riverview continues to be viewed as a central and ideal location for more services, and Hodge said he believes some of the newer buildings, such as Valleyview, which was shut down last year, could be re-purposed for a short-term solution for those with the highest need.
"There are people on our streets or out of sight that are not getting the care that they need," Hodge said, suggesting that, perhaps the move towards de-institutionalization went too far.
Still, a longer-term plan that includes mental health care, or perhaps a centre of excellence, is what Hodge is hoping to see when the province rolls out its new plan and public consultation.
With the plan under wraps, though, speculation is rife on the future of the property.
In an exchange in the legislature earlier this summer, new Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson asked Housing Minister Rich Coleman to provide assurance that the property wouldn't be parcelled off and sold.
Coleman responded that the province sees the property as a "long-term asset" for health care, mental health, addictions and other opportunities to help people in B.C. but wouldn't be specific as to the future plans.