For people with severe mental health and substance use disorders, accessing health and support services can be a further challenge, with serious consequences.
But by bringing those needed services to those who require them – at home, in shelters, camps or drop-in centres – more people can receive help, when and where they need it.
Abbotsford and Mission will soon have an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, likely to be established by April 2015, with Fraser Health and the B.C. Ministry of Health each contributing $2 million. Surrey/North Delta will also receive funding for a new team.
Stan Kuperis, Fraser Health’s director of clinical program mental health and substance use, will serve as the team’s director.
He said they want to reach those with mental health and substance abuse issues, many of whom are homeless or at risk of homelessness and “do not readily engage with our existing … services.”
The ACT team intends for 75 per cent of its services to be mobile.
The team will have nine clinical staff, made up of registered nurses, psychiatric nurses, social workers, a vocational rehabilitation worker, psychiatrists, addictions specialists, peer-support workers (people who have also experienced mental health issues) and health care workers, said Kuperis.
When fully functional, it will have the capacity to support about 80 to 100 individuals in the Abbotsford/Mission program.
In Abbotsford, where the issue of homelessness is an ongoing, high-profile concern, the announcement of the ACT Team is welcome news. Securing funding for an ACT team was identified as a key objective in the city’s task force on homelessness.
Kuperis said some people on the streets have mental health or substance abuse issues that can hamper them from accessing housing.
The team engages with people to address their issues, but also has an opportunity to provide rental subsidies to help get people into housing.
In Surrey, the ACT team has had a major impact, said Kuperis. Many people, in additional to having mental health issues, may have health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
Treating all of these problems with an ACT team can reduce the time spent in psychiatric or hospital care.
Mayor Henry Braun said the announcement is “great news” for the city. He said having a team working with people, including those living on the streets, is a key factor for getting them into housing.
He said it will also provide an opportunity to learn about what people in the community need.
“Once we know what we are dealing with, we can start to make a positive difference in their lives.”
In Vancouver, ACT teams have reduced emergency department visits by 70 per cent, according to health minister Terry Lake, who cited the statistic in a Fraser Health news release.
Fraser Health implemented its first ACT team in Surrey in February 2012 and expanded to include New Westminster and the Tri‐Cities in February 2013.
The ACT program uses an outreach approach, extended hours of service, and a housing-first philosophy, which focuses on the idea that a safe and comfortable place to live is an essential first step to coping with mental illness and substance use disorders.