Got thinking about the state of mental health in this city after I had a chat last week with Joseph Segal and why he and his wife were donating $12 million to a new mental health facility on the grounds of Vancouver General Hospital.
Maybe you read my story.
The big-hearted philanthropist broke down at a press conference when talking about mental health. After he collected himself and stepped from the stage, I asked Segal why he donated the money.
The articulate 88-year-old was quick to respond.
“I felt that mental health was something that was invisible and you have to step forward,” he told me.
Standing nearby was Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid, the province’s health minister, who praised the Segals for the donation. The 100-bed facility will open in 2017 and replace the aging mental health centre on 12th Avenue.
That’s good news, right?
Of course, it is.
But when will the city see a so-called “urgent response centre” for mentally ill people, as recommended by the Vancouver Police Department in its 2008 revealing report about the mental health crisis in Vancouver?
I asked MacDiarmid this question. But before I get to her answers, some background on the VPD’s request and the report, which was titled “Lost in Transition.”
The report suggested “a lack of capacity in the mental health system is failing the city’s mentally ill and draining police resources.”
The report summarized data collected over a two-week period in September 2007. More than 30 per cent of VPD calls for that stretch involved at least one mentally ill person.
The report made recommendations to address the gap in mental health services in the city, including the need for an “urgent response centre” for mentally ill people and a long-term care facility.
In the year the report was released — 2008 — police were dispatched to 1,845 calls involving the mentally ill and apprehended 1,249 people under the Mental Health Act.
A year later, in 2009, the VPD estimated it spent $9 million of its budget on officers responding to calls involving a mentally ill person.
The VPD pushed for a 24-hour specialized response centre because they say there is no place in the middle of the night to take people suffering from mental health or addictions problems other than a hospital or a jail.
The centre would allow each patient to stay up to 72 hours and have access to housing for up to seven days so a medical team could properly assess them. Over to you Madame health minister…
“While there may not be exactly what the VPD had envisioned, I think there’s a much better working relationship now and constant efforts to improve it between the VPD and Vancouver Coastal Health and, in fact, the [health] ministry,” MacDiarmid said.
She pointed to the community Assertive Community Treatment, or ACT teams, and the ongoing work of the VPD’s Car 87 — a cop/nurse team —devoted to mental health calls.
So no stand-alone response centre?
“What I would say about having a stand-alone centre is I would just be worried about duplicating resources and you never want to do that. Sometimes a stand-alone [facility] is a really good idea but sometimes you’re better to take the care to where it’s needed and I think that’s what the ACT teams do. They actually go physically to where the problem is and then figure it out from there.”
So I guess that means no urgent response centre.
I checked with the VPD to see if, indeed, the city’s mental health crisis was on the decline because of what MacDiarmid told me.
As of November 2012, approximately 24 per cent of police calls across the city — much higher in the Downtown Eastside — have involved a person with a mental health concern.