Premier douses Riverview plan
JEREMY DEUTSCH / WITH FILES FROM THE PROVINCE
SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 12:00 AM
It appears the fate of Riverview, at least its role in future mental health treatment, is even more in doubt following an annual meeting of municipal leaders.
Last week, members of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) voted in favour of a resolution to turn the old Riverview Hospital into a centre of excellence for mental health care.
However, Premier Christy Clark quickly scuttled the idea.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who voted in favour of the UBCM resolution, said the city still has work to do in speaking with government, but is optimistic Riverview can still play a role in mental health.
He argued too often the debate is centred on re-opening Riverview, but suggests no one is in favour of using the hospital as an asylum as in the past.
Instead, he said the hospital and grounds could be an expanded asset for mental health treatment, especially given its central location in the Lower Mainland.
“We want to continue to advocate for that role and we will,” he said, adding he met with six provincial ministers at UBCM on the issue.
“We want B.C. to lead in mental health and I think the Riverview lands can play a significant role as they always have.”
Stewart also suggested it’s more cost effective to treat addiction and mental health than leaving it up to the police, which then becomes the responsibility of the municipality.
At the UBCM conference, Clark said the government plans to continue helping homeless people by building social housing.
“People live tragic lives which none of us would want. We’re spending $80 million on housing just in Vancouver and $1.3 billion on mental health annually,” she said.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said the centre of excellence would be something substantially different than what the hospital was 25 years ago.
“Now, the integration of former clients of Riverview into the community was a good idea in concept, and many people are living successful lives in our community,” he said.
“However, the pendulum kind of went too far to one side, and there are people in our society that the integration model just hasn’t worked for.”
Moore also said he believes the provincial government needs to take another look at Riverview before shooting the idea down.
“I heard her [Premier Clark] comments, but I never heard substantially why they’re opposed to it,” he said. “I think we need to have a conversation. Us in local government see first-hand the effects of mental health on our streets.”
Earlier this month, the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department called on the provincial government to embrace a five-point plan that includes funding 300 locked-ward beds for severely mentally ill people. That city’s police department said mental health problems have reached crisis proportions.
Port Moody’s police force has also dealt with an increase in mental health related calls in the last six years.
According to the Port Moody Police Department, in 2007 the force dealt with 39 mental health/emotionally disturbed person calls.
The number grew to 65 files in 2009, 119 files in 2010, 106 files in 2011 and 130 files in 2012. The department said it would likely see similar numbers this year.
Coquitlam-Maillardville NDP MLA Selina Robinson said she was disappointed by the premier’s response to the UBCM resolution and questioned the provincial government’s plan for the site.
“It makes me very anxious,” she said, adding the quick response from the premier makes her wonder if the province already has developers lined up for the site.
The rookie MLA also argued there is no such thing as “one-size-fits all” for mental health, suggesting community support doesn’t work in all cases.
“You need a range of service, so Riverview could play a huge role in that spectrum of services,” she said.
Robinson also criticized the provincial government for not having a vision for the lands or hospital, calling it “demolition by neglect.”
Coquitlam-Burke Mountain Liberal MLA Doug Horne, however, said the province needs to continue to work with the community to figure out the future of Riverview, but noted the site is still being used as a centre for mental health.
He suggested many of the municipal leaders voting on the UBCM resolution don’t really understand what’s already at the site.
Horne said a number of ideas have been tossed around for the Riverview lands, including more hospital beds. He said he would also like to see the grounds opened up to the public in the form of a park.
“I don’t think anyone wants the site to go derelict and not be used for anything,” Horne said. “I think it is a site for the community.”
He also scoffed at the suggestion the province already has secret plans for the site.
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