Editorial: Revisiting Riverview

A push to re-open Riverview Hospital will be made at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention taking place in Vancouver Sept. 16 to 20.

Maple Ridge council has indicated it will bring forward a resolution to re-open the psychiatric hospital, saying that closing it in the early 1990s — opting instead to help those with severe mental illness in their own communities —  has resulted in “unacceptably poor outcomes for the most needy citizens.”

It also has resulted in severe social and financial burdens on local governments.

In the 1990s, the provincial government chose to switch gears on how to care for people with severe mental illness. Those living at Riverview were going to live within their own communities and be supported through housing and  other social services.

Community mental health facilities were built in several communities, including Langley, for long-term stays.

The problem is there are far too few beds to meet the demand

An “institution” to house the mentally ill conjures up visions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the painfully outdated Riverview model was, rightfully, fazed out.

But the reality is that when it closed many people were pushed out without proper support. Far too many who were living at Riverview now find themselves on the Downtown Eastside — in many ways a much worse hell.

Others moved back to their hometowns, where many have ended up homeless, often self medicating with illegal drugs.

Police resources are over burdened dealing with the severely mentally ill.

In Langley, one man in his 20s regularly attempts suicide, bringing in not just local police but sometimes emergency response teams because he can be armed at times.

Police spend countless hours bringing mentally ill patients to emergency rooms. And hospital psych wards have been criticized by many parents and caregivers for releasing their sick loved ones too soon.

Too many jail cells are housing the mentally ill. The system is over-burndened and in the end it is our entire society who suffers.

Maple Ridge council  suggests a “modern centre of excellence” and that is exactly what society should demand. As minister of housing,  Aldergrove-Fort Langley MLA Rich Coleman is in charge of helping decide Riverview’s fate.

If you think the province needs to revisit Riverview, this is probably the best time to let him know.