Idea of re-opening Riverview Hospital gains traction

Critics are calling for the provincial government to reopen a mental health facility that’s been underused and largely abandoned for years.

Advocates say too many people who need help are living on the street without the services and resources they need.

Years after it closed, Riverview Hospital’s historic buildings and sprawling lands conjure up a certain image.

Originally opened in 1913, the former facility for people with mental illness closed in 2011.

Riverview’s demise was decades in the making, as the idea of getting mental health patients into the community grew popular.

The idea was to get patients out of institutionalized settings and give them support in the community.

“Regionalization has been very successful,” says NDP MLA Mike Farnworth. “Still there are people falling through the cracks.”

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While current mental health research shows people do respond to care in smaller community based facilities, there’s no doubt too many mentally ill people are now wandering the streets.

They are a danger to themselves and the public, victims of support programs being cut.

The problem is seen first-hand everyday by police.

In January, a 33-year-old mentally ill man stabbed several people living in the same West End housing complex as his girlfriend. He attacked others with a hammer.

In July, a mentally ill woman gave birth to twins in Oppenheimer Park. At one point she had to be restrained during labour as she was a threat to her children’s safety.

On August 12, Vancouver Police were called downtown after getting reports of a distraught man carrying a needle in his hand.

He was being confrontational with passers-by and police. Authorities were forced to use a bean bag gun in order to arrest the man. It was later learned he was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis.

Arrests under the Mental Health Act in Vancouver have quadrupled in the past decade.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu says his police officers are on the front lines of mental health response.

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“We went from the agency of last resort, to mental health services agency of first resort.”

The problem isn’t just limited to Vancouver or the Downtown Eastside.

Maple Ridge city council is calling on the province to re-instate Riverview as a modern mental health facility with at least 300 beds.

“Maybe it’s better to give people some supports in a fixed environment, rather than the social costs on the streets,” says Ernie Daykin, Mayor of Maple Ridge.

The talk of re-opening Riverview can certainly be described as “back to the future public policy.”

At 240 acres, there’s certainly enough land to build a new facility.

Some of the older buildings are in disrepair and the grounds certainly need upkeep.

Many worry it will fall into the hands of developers, eliminating any chance of a new Riverview.

“It’s an important piece of public land that has historically delivered mental health services in B.C.,” says Farnworth. “If you lose it, you will not get it back.”

Video: “Riverview Hospital Closes” — originally aired 2011

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