Coquitlam endorses Riverview as health centre and site of a hospital site

Riverview Hospital
Riverview Hospital's West Lawn building in Coquitlam.
— image credit: tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

The provincial government’s decision to close Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam has led to the “current serious mental health crisis in the province,” a former vice-president of the 102-year-old institution says.

And on Monday, Coquitlam city council unanimously backed Dr. John Higenbottam’s plan, which includes construction of an acute care hospital, to rededicate the 244-acre site as a health and wellness centre to curb the trend, especially in the Lower Mainland.

Council’s move came after the city spent $20,000 to hire the clinical psychologist last December to update the city’s 14-year-old vision for Riverview, a site that, in its heyday, treated more than 5,000 patients with mental illnesses.

In his report “Into the Future, the Coquitlam Health Campus” that was released this week, Dr. Higenbottam wrote the series of deinstitutionalization programs, starting in the 1980s, saw the hospital downsized and led to its closure in 2012.

“Unfortunately, this has resulted in a loss of Riverview’s specialized treatment capability for the group of ‘traditional’ persons with serious mental illness requiring specialized, longer-term treatment which exceeds the capabilities of community hospitals and services,” he stated.

“At the same time, a group of Severely Addicted Mentally Ill (SAMI) individuals has emerged who have complex treatment needs and who are now placing great pressure on hospital emergency departments and psychiatric units as well as police and social services.”

In 2008 and last year, the Union of BC Municipalities called on the provincial government to reopen Riverview but at the organization’s 2013 convention, Premier Christy Clark said that wouldn’t happen.

With BC Housing now tasked by the province to conduct a visioning exercise for Riverview this year, Coquitlam council believes Higenbottam’s report will add weight.

It is submitting his report — as its official stance on Riverview’s future — to BC Housing, health authorities and Shared Services BC, the government agency that currently controls the site.

Specifically, in developing a health campus, Higenbottam recommends a phased approach that includes:


• relocating the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction programs for SAMI programs to a suitable building on Riverview such as Centre Lawn;

• opening specialized psychiatric treatment programs in the Centre Lawn building to service those who require longer-term treatment;

• developing an acute care hospital in the Valleyview 300 building;

• forming long-term residential and rehabilitation services in proximity to the current residential programs in the existing Lodge and Cottage buildings;

• creating an education and training centre for mental health, addictions, rehabilitation and recovery in the Henry Esson Young administration building;

• establishing a health and wellness business park;

• dedicating the southwest end of the site for public park use;


• developing additional long-term residential and rehab units;

• making a recreational facility in the Pennington Hall area;


• developing a new, purpose-built clinical centre in the North Lawn area to relocate the programs from Centre Lawn as well as the acute care hospital from the Valleyview 300 building.

Higenbottam is expected to be at tomorrow’s Riverview Lands Advisory Committee to talk about his report in depth.

In a statement to The Tri-City News on Tuesday, BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay said the province is halfway through its public consultation process “to establish a shared vision” for Riverview.

“We made a commitment to listen to all those with interest in the Riverview lands,” Ramsay stated. “There are a number of stakeholders engaged in the consultation process, including the local community, all levels of government and the Kwikwetlem First Nations. We welcome the city’s proposal and will consider it along with other feedback received during the consultation.”

Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth, the NDP’s finance critic, said, “Riverview needs to stay in public ownership. It needs to be a health centre for excellence and there’s an opportunity to focus on the needs of the mentally ill here.”

• To view Dr. Higenbottam’s report or the city’s 2005 Riverview task force document, go to



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