John Kurucz / Tri-Cities Now
June 20, 2014 12:00 AM
Joy, curiosity and optimism are just a few of the emotions flowing out of the community closest to Riverview Hospital in light of Coquitlam’s recommendations earlier this week to transform the site into an all-encompassing campus of health.
For Norma Gillespie, it’s almost as if Riverview’s evolution has come full circle. She went to school there for nursing, and also worked at the site alongside patients struggling with some of the worst mental health issues imaginable, a group referred to as SAMI – severely addicted and mentally ill.
“I am just so pleased that somebody is speaking up for the mentally ill who are addicted,” said Gillespie, president of the Riverview Horticultural Centre Society. “We’ve been so sad for so long about what’s happening to that group: they’re out on the street, in jail and without proper care. It’s been so frustrating.”
Council released a report Monday by clinical psychologist John Higenbottam entitled Into the Future: the Coquitlam Health Campus, a lengthy plan that serves as the city’s official submission to two processes that are currently underway: BC Housing’s public consultation on the future of the Riverview lands and Fraser Health’s operational and strategic review. The wideranging vision includes calls for a health and wellness campus, an acute care hospital and a purpose-built psychiatric hospital.
“I was absolutely delighted to see the report,” said Elaine Golds, conservation chair with the Burke Mountain Naturalists.
“I agree with everything that’s said in the report. I can’t see a better idea for the Riverview site other than to create a centre of excellence for mental health care.”
Golds sees the arboretum, which is home to close to 2,000 trees, as a particularly valuable element to the overall site. She hopes future plans will include patients maintaining the land, planting crops and working to preserve the trees as part of their recovery process.
“Studies show that people get better faster when they’re living amongst nature,” she said. “When we live in a treed community, we feel better and we feel mentally healthier.”
Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson lauded the plan and had high praise for her former council colleagues for helping to instigate an “excellent vision.”
Among her wish-list of items is more mental health services for youth and a clearer vision for the types of services that would be contained in the proposed health and wellness campus.
While no cost estimates are attached to Higenbottam’s report, Robinson maintains that land sales should not be used to finance the plan.
“To say the land has to be sold off, well I don’t see [the Liberals] saying that to Royal Columbian, I don’t see them saying that to St. Paul’s and I don’t see them saying that to anybody else,” she said. “So what’s so different about this case?” Coquitlam-Burke Mountain Liberal MLA Doug Horne keyed in on one aspect of the plan: an acute care hospital that’s intended to help take some of the mounting pressure off of Royal Columbian Hospital.
“It’s very difficult, in my opinion, to be building on the Royal Columbian site when we’re already at capacity on the site,” he said. “Turning that site into a construction zone with really no ability to deal with the issues of both construction and capacity is very, very difficult.”
Horne also didn’t rule out the possibility of market housing on the Riverview site, something the city’s plan is steadfastly against. However, Horne’s suggestion came with a caveat.
“To completely discount anything on the site, whether it’s housing or anything else, doesn’t make a lot of sense at this stage,” he said.
© Tri-Cities Now
John Kurucz / Tri-Cities Now