The CEO of BC Housing is defending his agency's move to link the vision for Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam with a provincial health announcement last month.
This week, Shayne Ramsay responded to criticism about the visioning document being dropped on local officials at the same time provincial ministers were welcoming news to open 143 beds for mental health patients at the historic site, which has been undergoing extensive public consultation for the past two years about its future use.
"It was clearly a conscious decision to actually demonstrate to the stakeholders and the community that we really heard the message around the health facilities and re-establishing Riverview as a model for mental wellness," said Ramsay, whose organization is in charge of the 103-year-old site that was formally closed about three years ago.
Much of the push by those taking part in the consultation so far has been to renew the 244-acre property and return the grounds to a mental wellness hub.
Coquitlam city council is on the record endorsing a report by Dr. John Higenbottam, a clinical psychologist and former Riverview vice-president. In his report, he called on the province to ease the pressure on Lower Mainland hospitals and other healthcare facilities to treat individuals known as SAMIs, or Severely Addicted Mentally Ill.
Higenbottam suggested the provincial government relocate the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions programs for SAMIs to Riverview — which will now happen — but he also recommended Valleyview be turned into an acute care hospital.
However, at last month's press conference, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said Valleyview will be raze to make way for two new buildings to replace the Burnaby facility as well as the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre and the Provincial Assessment Centre.
Ramsay countered the provincial government has to make decisions around the best provision of healthcare services. "I think we got a great start on Riverview with almost $200 million in new health facilities announced for Riverview," he said. "I believe with the existing Hillside and Brookside, you really begin to re-establish a significant health presence on the site and we certainly heard that loud and clear during the consultation process."
He reiterated: "We made a conscious decision to link the vision to the healthcare facility and really demonstrate to folks — as part of the rejuvenated Riverview — health will be a significant component of it."
More fine-tuning of the land-use plan will be made once the BC Housing consultation finishes this year and moves to the city for further discussion, he said.
As well, Ramsay also addressed the Kwikwetlem First Nation's Community Principles and Objects document contained in A Vision for Renewing Riverview. Its report makes clear its claim for aboriginal rights and title to Riverview.
Ramsay said BC Housing has been talking with the 82-member band and Chief Ron Giesbrecht for three years and is aware of their mandate.
And the visioning document outlines everyone's interests — not just the first nations. "We will come to a formal agreement that will accommodate all the aspirations for the site," Ramsay said, adding, "It's a 244-acre site. We have a great opportunity to define relations with the first nations, with the broader community and with local government."
• Meanwhile, BC Housing is extending its fifth and final open house on the visioning document to Feb. 12. Go to renewingriverview.ca to have your say on the future of Riverview.