June 14, 2013 10:37 pm
Updated: June 15, 2013 1:00 am

VCH mental health cuts closes nationally-recognized arts recovery program

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A nationally-recognized arts recovery program that’s been in operation for 21 years is the latest casualty in the Vancouver Coast Health Authority’s deep cuts to mental health programs.

Among the funding cuts are treatments for mood disorders, schizophrenia, and the complete closure of the Arts Studio recovery program in 60 days. Critics are saying the cuts hurt even more due to the announcement coming days after Victoria raised salaries for senior government staff.

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There are more than 600 members from teenagers to seniors that use the Arts Studio recovery program to deal with their mental health diagnoses. The program has been in operation for 21 years and has been funded by VCH for the past decade. The cost of the program, which has five full-time staff, is $357,000 a year – and after a review, the health authority says it’s too expensive to run.

It won’t be a savings if people end up in the hospital or the loss of lives, says Jessica, an Arts Studio member.

Members and staff say they hear repeatedly that the Arts Studio “saved their lives.”

“This is the only place other than my four walls at home,” says another devastated member Lisa Chan.

“All these bodies around me are part of my family and I don’t know if I’m going to see them anymore – what am I going to do? This is just so depressing.”

The innovative rehabilitation program has produced a lot of talent with art shows and sales being well-attended by the public – and there is a long waiting list for the East Vancouver studio.

“We’re not denying it’s beneficial to clients, and clients have benefited from it, “ says Anne Marie D’Angelo, Vancouver Coastal Health. “But it’s not something we can put our resources to as far as mental health funds, when there are other areas where there is greater need.”

VCH insists all the members will be given help to transition into other programs but people at the meeting today say they were only given pamphlets with phone numbers for crisis lines and counselling services. They were also given a list of other art programs; which didn’t offer anything close to what they have at the Art Studio.

“It’s my life, like for someone to get up and go to work and it’s my reason for getting out of the house,” says Art Studio member Adriane.

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