It has been three months since the completion of a new specialized mental health subunit at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., but the facility continues to sit unused.
The new mental health and substance use facility was built as a part of Phase 2 of the multi-million dollar emergency department upgrade.
It includes two private consult/quiet rooms, a patient exam room, a seclusion room, a waiting area and a nursing station, and was funded in large part by the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation.
“To have this sitting empty when there is such a need, and when people have put in their own personal money, we find it confounding as to why the government is dragging its heels to get it open,” BC Liberal mental health and addictions critic Elenore Sturko told Global News.
“There is no excuse for a delay like this.”
There has been no official explanation for why the unit has yet to open, but sources told Global News the issue was a dispute between the Fraser Health Authority and the Ministry of Health over who will pay for staffing.
Health Minister Adrian Dix pushed back against that characterization.
“With respect to issues around beds, you’ve characterized it as a disagreement between the Ministry of Health and the health authority — I don’t think that’s the case,” Dix said.
“We’re working to ensure people have the services they need as soon as possible.”
According to last year’s Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, White Rock RCMP respond to 150 mental-health calls every year. That translates to approximately 375 hours of police time spent at Peace Arch Hospital with those patients.
“There has never been a higher demand,” Sturko said.
“These are specialized rooms that can be used to treat people who are in a mental health crisis instead of putting someone through an emergency room or having them sit in a waiting room.”
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In a statement to Global News, the Peach Arch Hospital Foundation said it is disappointed the new unit has not yet opened to treat patients.
“This does not meet our, or our donors’, expectations, but we are confident Fraser Health will allocate the resources needed for this critically needed facility in the near future,” the statement reads.
In another statement, Fraser Health said it was working to staff the unit “as quickly as possible.”
“In the meantime, all patients who present to the Peace Arch Hospital with mental health and/or substance use concerns will continue to be supported in the Emergency Department,” it added.
“As with any health concern, if a patient needs a higher level of care, the hospital will transfer them to another site within Fraser Health’s hospital network to ensure they receive the supports they need.”