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Letter: Mentally ill need Riverview in Coquitlam

The Editor, I recently listened to audio of the Minister of Health Terry Lake describing the change in focus of mental health treatment in B.C.

The Editor,

I recently listened to audio of the Minister of Health Terry Lake describing the change in focus of mental health treatment in B.C. He talked about the new approach to mental health being deinstitutionalization with what he called “wrap-around services.” Referencing Riverview Hospital, he said the days of “lock them up and force them to take treatment” are over.

As I wrote in a previous letter to the editor, I worked at Riverview as a registered psychologist/assessment coordinator from 1981 until its closure in 2012. With respect, it is clear that Mr. Lake does not have a good understanding of the continuum of care provided at Riverview.

During his time of being at Riverview, Dr. John Higgenbottam and the staff adopted a new approach called “psychosocial rehabilitation.” Multi-disciplinary ward rounds were held once a week and reviewed each patient, including a psychologist, pharmacist, doctor/psychiatrist, nurse, social worker and vocational rehabilitation. A typical day for a patient would include four to five classes, graduating to a pre-vocational or vocational placement. There were three locked wards; one was an intensive care unit where patients needed to be protected from themselves or injury to others; two others tried to cope with patients who were very disturbed and sometimes violent to others.

I am upset by Mr. Lake’s comments, as would Riverview staff who did such a fantastic job of caring for our patients. He demeaned the very people who looked after these individuals.

Unfortunately the closing of Riverview Hospital has had many unfortunate unintended consequences, including people living in squalor on the Downtown Eastside as well as New Westminster, Coquitlam, Surrey, Abbotsford or wherever they can.

The newest plan I can find for Riverview is a BC Housing document called A Vision for Renewing Riverview (December 2015). The plans call for a break-even mandate — i.e., all costs associated with Riverview will come from revenue generated from the property. The intent is to maximize the potential value of the Riverview lands. On page 5 of the document , it clearly states that housing on the site would be part of the new mandate. For example, in order to restore East Lawn building, it would require one of the following: building 80 single-family units at $885,000 each, or 450 townhouse units at $475,000 per unit, or building 500 condominiums at $320,000 per unit.

Additionally, there will be a commercial centre, and some unspecified amenities, Rich Coleman stated in an article in The Tri-City News last February.

With many former patients homeless, they are not receiving proper psychiatric care even though there are many dedicated professionals working with them. Housing once more on part of the Riverview site, perhaps Centre Lawn or other available areas, would provide best care for many of the most vulnerable ex-patients. 

Helen MacIsaac, Coquitlam