Hundreds of lives changed for the better thanks to mental health supports

BCThroughout British Columbia, hundreds of vulnerable people with severe addiction and mental illness are securing housing, having fewer interactions with police and spending less time in emergency rooms, according to the latest numbers from innovative health authority programs.

“Most people with severe addiction and mental illness don’t need to be institutionalized. They need a network of health and community supports that meets their unique needs,” Health Minister Terry Lake said. “The spectrum of services now available in B.C. is helping people who struggle with some of the most difficult circumstances to turn their lives around, by providing targeted services where they best meet clients’ needs, instead of relying on hospitals and police.”

Health authorities, police departments, health care staff and other partners are seeing dramatic improvements after just over two years’ collaborative work to increase mental health and addiction supports, as part of the $25-million mental health action plan launched by the Ministry of Health in November 2013.

The evidence-based Assertive Outreach and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, which partner with local law enforcement, housing services and clinical professionals to provide proactive mental-health and substance-use treatment and supports, have been particularly successful. Vancouver’s ACT clients have seen a 45% reduction in emergency department visits, a 51% reduction in violent offences and a 71% reduction in street disorder since 2013. In November 2015, Vancouver’s Assertive Outreach Team (AOT) received recognition for its innovative work with an award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“Statistics suggest that the proactive and collaborative effort between the Vancouver Police Department, the City of Vancouver and health experts in the past few years is working,” said Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable Adam Palmer. “There is still work to be done and we look forward to continuing our great partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health in the Car 87, AOT and ACT teams to reduce negative police contact and hospital visits and to ensure those suffering from severe mental health issues get the medical care and support they need and deserve.”

Vancouver Island’s urban ACT teams, established in 2007, have reduced client emergency room visits by 40% and hospital days by 60%. Fraser Health’s Surrey and New Westminster-Tri Cities ACT teams, established in 2012 and 2013, respectively, have seen a drop of more than 59% in emergency department visits and a 65% decrease in hospital admissions for their clients. Interior Health’s two Kamloops and Kelowna teams, established in early 2015, have helped reduce client acute care admissions by 73% and average length of stay in care by 54% in their first year.

ACT team clients are also benefitting from rehabilitation supports provided by the program, with every client receiving employment counselling and a connection with safe, stable, affordable housing.

“These are individuals who frequently have substance use issues. They are homeless or at risk of homelessness and they are high users of hospital and police services. Their care needs are complex and they have not benefitted from our traditional mental-health and substance-use programs,” said Lisa Wensink, an ACT team leader in Kelowna. “The team approach is powerful.  A big part of our work is liaising with others to provide a really comprehensive service.”

The Province’s mental health action plan was created to reduce barriers and service gaps, and to support evidence-based solutions for patients with severe addictions and mental illness. With $20 million in new annual funding allotted to health authorities as part of the plan, every region has seen enhancements, including new rehabilitation and recovery beds, new community outreach teams, new youth group home beds and expanded rural services.

Actions laid out in the provincial plan are ongoing throughout the province, including the opening of the Williams Lake Designated Observation Unit, slated to be complete by summer 2016 and the development of a new 105-bed mental health facility that will become B.C.’s new Centre for Mental Health and Addiction on the Riverview grounds. In addition, government recently announced a new 10-bed inpatient unit at the HOpe Centre, opening in spring 2017, which will provide specialized, intensive services for youth living with mental health and substance use challenges. Also in 2017, the 10-bed Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Stabilization Unit (CAPSU) at Surrey Memorial Hospital will provide short stay assessment and crisis stabilization for children and youth who require urgent access to psychiatric care.

Mental illness and substance use problems are complex and require a variety of prevention, early intervention, treatment and support strategies. The mental health action plan for people with severe addiction and mental illness is just one piece of government’s overall work to encourage mental wellness in all British Columbians and to ensure all patients have access to the right type of mental health and substance use care, in the right place, at the right time. This work is also helping the ministry meet its strategic priority of providing British Columbians with enhanced primary and community care services while ensuring people remain out of hospital, whenever appropriate.

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