Hub for mental health and addictions treatment opens at Vancouver hospital

The Canadian Press
July 19, 2018
By The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — A one-stop centre for people struggling with both mental health and drug addictions has opened at a Vancouver hospital, creating what the B.C. government says is a first-of-its-kind facility in Canada.

The St. Paul’s Hospital hub is a centre for rapid assessment, treatment and stabilization that includes an acute medical unit with 10 patient beds, a nursing station and supply room.

The program is meant to divert people who come into St. Paul’s emergency department, which the province says treats the largest number of patients with mental health and addictions challenges in B.C.

It says about 11,000 visits to the hospital’s emergency department every year are related to mental health or substance-use and the pressure has escalated on the hospital in conjunction with the opioid overdose crisis.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says staff at the centre will be able to quickly assess and direct the patient to appropriate care, which could range from immediate medical treatment to help accessing social services like housing. It also means they won’t have to wait in the emergency room for hours and report their issues in front of an audience in the waiting room, she said.

“You won’t be turned away, you won’t be left to navigate a system that is often fragmented and confusing,” Darcy said.

It comes at a time when an average of three to four people are dying of overdoses every day in B.C., the minister said. In other parts of the province, community-action teams are identifying gaps in services and prioritizing needed resources, she said.

“The last few months we’ve seen the numbers begin to come down and stabilize but it is far, far too early to say we’ve turned the corner on this crisis,” Darcy said of the overdose death toll that prompted the government to declare a public health emergency in 2016.

Emergency department head Dr. Dan Kalla says the 10 new beds dedicated to the centre won’t be enough to help all those who need care but they are a significant step, representing about 15 per cent of the hospital’s total acute-care beds.

“We never have a ‘no vacancy’ sign in the emergency department, we always get more patients than we can handle. But it will make a big difference,” he said.

He said the emergency department was facing an unprecedented rise in mental health and substance-abuse visits and had outgrown its space even before illicit opioids like fentanyl sparked the overdose epidemic.

Mental health and addictions have also put a large strain on police resources. About 17 per cent of 270,000 service calls last year to the Vancouver police department were mental-health related, Chief Const. Adam Palmer said.

In 2017, officers waited an average of one hour and 15 minutes in emergency rooms with each person in need until an doctor was available, he said.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said mental health and addiction problems have reached levels he never anticipated when the city launched its first mayor’s task force on the issue in 2013, making the hub something for the community to celebrate.

“We couldn’t have imagined the scale of tragedy that was about to hit us in these last few years with fentanyl and its analogues and the opioid crisis that’s now sweeping across North America,” he said.

“We have to do better.”

- Amy Smart

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2018

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