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What happened to Riverview Hospital patients when it closed?

MAPLE RIDGE (NEWS1130) – Maple Ridge’s mayor is concerned with the number of people with mental illness who are living on the street in the Lower Mainland, and his council is pushing to re-open Riverview Hospital to help solve the problem.

As Ernie Daykin prepares to take the issue to the Union of BC Municipalities convention next month, the province is defending its decision to close the facility for good.

The province started to change its approach to mental health treatment in the mid-1960s. Instead of keeping patients in a single, centralized institution such as Riverview, it moved toward a more regionalized system so patients could receive care and treatment closer to home.

The new approach was ramped up in the late 1980s and by the early 2000s, plans were in the works to close the facility for good. The final patients were transferred out of Riverview last year; the facility closed its doors for the last time in July, 2012.

Marina Morrow, an associate professor with SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, says the BC government’s new approach to mental health care is the right one. She conducted a small study that tracked some of the Riverview patients after the facility closed.

“Some of them had been living in Riverview for 30 years, so they would have been suffering from the effects of their mental problems and also the effects of institutionalization,” she says.

“Even under those very difficult circumstances, many have been able to move on and live in supportive housing and do quite well. “I think that is a real testimony to the model that the province developed and certainly supports their decision to close Riverview.”

Morrow also takes issue with what she calls the “common misconception that patients from Riverview ended up on the Downtown Eastside” following the closure.

“I don’t think any of the tracking studies show that has been true,” she says. “People have been very well cared for since they left. It’s a very systematic plan. All of them have been transferred to other care facilities where they have a very high level of care. None of them are being transferred directly to the community.”

Morrow says most of the pressure on BC’s mental health system existed before Riverview closed, but that doesn’t mean the new system isn’t without its flaws.

“The cons are on the side of closing resources,” she says.

“What we saw was once people started to do well and move out, then suddenly there was no more housing for them to move out to because there was no new allocation of funds to support the community-based health care system. Because of that lack of resources, people who could very well be living more independently have been kept in these care facilities because there is nowhere to send them to.”

Maple Ridge Council wants the BC government to reinstate Riverview as a “Modern Centre of Excellence for Mental Health Care and Support.”

“It has to be a different model,” says Daykin. “The reality of delivering services and support has to look very different than it did back in the day.”

The province points out every patient that has been transferred out of the facility has had a bed waiting for them in a smaller care home and a specific care plan.

It also says the Riverview Re-development Project includes nearly $140 million in mental health funding.