Riverview committee applauds report for hospital's future

Dr. John Higenbottam spoke to the city of Coquitlam
Dr. John Higenbottam spoke to the city of Coquitlam's Riverview Lands Advisory Committee last week.

A former vice-president of Riverview Hospital was applauded last week by Coquitlam's Riverview Lands Advisory Committee.

Last Thursday, the committee unanimously endorsed a report written for the municipality by clinical psychologist Dr. John Higenbottam. That document is being submitted to BC Housing and other stakeholders, and is considered significant as the provincial agency conducts a visioning exercise on the future of the former mental health institution.

In his document, Dr. Higenbottam calls for the construction of an acute care hospital and rededication of the 244-acre site as a centre for excellence to treat people with severe mental illness.

Dr. Higenbottam said emergency wards at hospitals such as St. Paul’s and Vancouver General have been full of psychiatric patients since Riverview closed in 2012. And he said many people who would have received specialized care at Riverview are now “going through a revolving door of repeated psychiatric admissions.”

He said the only way to get them out of acute care hospitals is for the provincial government to reinvest in the mental health system.

Higenbottam said most provinces have returned to a centralized model to care for people with mental health illness: The newly built Ontario Shores’ centre for mental health sciences handles programs and services for teens to seniors; Saskatchewan is re-establishing its provincial psychiatric rehabilitation hospital and correctional centre in North Battleford, where there was an institution built in 1913, the same year Riverview opened.

For the latter project, which is set to open in 2018, SaskBuilds will use a P3 approach that will see a private company design, build, finance and maintain the buildings. Costing up to $250 million, the new hospital will have 188 patients and it is intended to be the anchor of mental health care in Saskatchewan.

Higenbottam said the Willingdon site of the current Centre for Mental Health and Addictions in Burnaby was sold in March to the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations for $57.9 million. As a result, the staff and patients will have to vacate the 39 acres.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart stressed the old style of Riverview isn’t what is envisioned by Coquitlam. “It was perhaps the most state-of-the-art facility in its day,” he said. “The art has changed.”

Committee member Anna Tremere, a former Riverview employee, called its closure “a backward step. As a society, it was a disservice.”

Another committee member, Elaine Golds, said she would like to see more long-term care beds, especially for people with dementia, if Riverview returns as a health and wellness hub.

As for the concept of a new acute care hospital, Dr. Higenbottam suggested capital funds allocated for the redevelopment of Royal Columbian Hospital be used as 40% of the emergency admissions at the New Westminster facility are people from surrounding areas such as the Tri-Cities, Burnaby and Surrey.

“It’s really a no-brainer,” he said, adding, “From an economic and service point of view, it makes sense.”

Michael Flanigan, BC Housing’s vice-president of development and asset strategies, said Higenbottam’s report dovetails with the agency's visioning exercise.

He told the committee that 187 people took part in an open house on May 24 in Coquitlam while another 108 people showed up on May 28 in Port Moody.

And the feedback appeared to be on track with the first set of open houses, with the majority calling for Riverview to accommodate mental health patients, Flanigan said.

The third set of open houses will be held in the last week of September.


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