By Frances Stone – Ms. Recovery Writes
I may be in danger of bringing a knife to a gun fight with this post but, in keeping with my vow of my #RIGHT2WRITE, I will say my piece about why I think a vote for the NDP, is a vote for the mental health of British Columbia.
This is the taboo subject that I have avoided for most of my life because I didn’t want to risk offending anyone. All that changed when I had children and experienced the affects of lack of affordable housing, workers rights, childcare and mental health supports for myself. In working through a program of recovery, I realized that my family experience was being experienced by THOUSANDS of families in British Columbia and millions worldwide, and its affect could be seen everywhere in our society via poverty, abuse and addiction. I realize now, what is truly offensive is my silence and I will be silent no more.
men·tal health: a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being;
men·tal illness: refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. i.e., depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.
FULL disclosure, I am diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and have a Person with Disability status from the BC government, for which I AM GRATEFUL as my three children and I would not survive without its mental health supports and basic income.
Today, I am mentally healthy (striking a balance in all aspects of my life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental) and as a person in long-time recovery, I believe it is my responsibility to try and advocate for those who are still suffering, that cannot advocate for themselves.
So, let us begin . . .
In 1911, over 100 years ago, the Riverview Lands were set aside for two purposes; a sanctuary and residential treatment facility for the mentally ill and a site for a provincial botanical garden. In 1913, The Hospital for The Mind (later named Essondale, then Riverview) first opened as a 405 hectare site at the bottom of Mount Coquitlam for 340 male patients, who worked its land as part of their occupational therapy at neighbouring Colony Farms.
These patients were the hard labour behind the land which was recognized as one of the finest farming operations in Canada and Western Canada’s first botanical garden, with 600 native species from around the world —growing into an arboretum (a living museum) featuring over 1,800 mature trees from around the world—under BC’s first Provincial Botanist, John Davidson.
In 1920 it also became a home for incorrigible youth and in 1930 the transfer of 500 female patients, followed by a psychiatric nursing school, alleviated overcrowding at the Provincial Hospital for the Insane at New Westminster. At its peak, Riverviews population was 4, 726 people.
By the early 1950s, Essondale was a vibrant, self-contained community. In addition to the hospital buildings, the grounds housed a bakery, stables, greenhouse, postal station, fire department and even its own Mountie.
Riverview has a long and complex history of how it answered the call to the constant shifting of patients and resources in response to community needs and that history is questionable, at best. Riverview's past is full of experimental stories of occupational, recreational, music and art therapy as well as electro-convulsive therapy, hydrotherapy (which consisted of patients sitting in hot baths for up to 9 hours a day), lobotomies (consisting of cutting or scraping away most of the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain) compulsory sterilization (designed to protect the gene pool of mentally disabled persons in order to prevent the transmission of undesirable traits to offspring), hard labour disguised as work therapy and overcrowded dormitory wards with a staff to patient ratio of 1/232 that, among other things, did not protect patients from the spread of tuberculosis disease.
I'm not convinced that the doctors and nurses of that era meant to do harm, the facts suggest they were incredibly overwhelmed with the demand for their services, lacked information, education, resources and most importantly, accountability in their work.
That all changed in the 1990s, as Riverview began taking fewer patients and investigations began into their services resulting in The Mental Health Initiative, Canada’s first Charter of Patient Rights, a Patient Sexuality Policy and the Ministry of Health releasing a new Mental Health Plan for BC, to be implemented over the next seven years.
In 1994, The BC ombudsman, after a lengthy investigation, wrote that the impressive effort by the Board of BCHMS, and the staff and management of Riverview Hospital, to promote rather than resist the change to a patient-centered culture at Riverview [shows] that the climate of this organization is more conducive to change than at any time in the past.
Riverview was honest, open and willing to change, all the necessary conditions for recovery, until the Campbell-led BC Liberals won an overwhelming majority in 2001 and the vision for Riverview changed.
In 2002 The Riverview Redevelopment Project is announced. The aging institutional buildings at Riverview are to be gradually phased out, replaced by new smaller tertiary care facilities located in each of the five geographic regions of BC. Riverview patients will be transferred to facilities within those health regions in a carefully planned “bed for bed” transfer process.
Except that’s not exactly what happened.
In July 2007, the province announced its intention to develop Riverview to accommodate 7,000 units or more of high-rise market housing, as well as social housing and residences for the mentally ill. Negative reaction was swift. The City of Coquitlam reaffirmed its position that the land should remain publicly owned and market housing taken off the table, and a petition calling for protection of Riverview quickly garnered over 13,000 signatures. The provincial government later withdrew its proposal.
Then this report was released.
Many British Columbians feel that the closure of mental health facilities resulted in increased pressure on hospitals and municipalities to deliver services to individuals suffering from mental illness. Participants comment that, without support from a facility, mental health patients are more susceptible to homelessness and drug abuse, and that they are more likely to visit the emergency room because they had nowhere else to receive treatment. Participants believe that mental health facilities should be geographically spread out over the province to allow rural residents to have greater access to mental health support. The Sunshine Coast, the Upper Fraser Valley, Hazelton, and Kelowna are mentioned as areas in particular need of mental health supports. Many submissions also indicate that Riverview should be re-opened.
In 2014, The Kwikwetlem First Nation claimed their aboriginal title interests to all the lands associated with Riverview Hospital (Riverview Lands), among other areas in their traditional territory where they stated they will contemplate any use that makes economic sense. Until 2016, when they filed a claim again, stating that “Although governments have taken some steps to involve us in making decisions about how our lands will be used, we do not feel our title and rights interests are being taken seriously. Given there are limited processes for resolving Aboriginal land claims for a small Nation like ours, this claim is the next logical step.”
The BC Liberals unprecedented, break-even mandate, which means the costs associated with revitalizing the site are generated from revenues from the property — which would likely mean selling land to be developed is what makes everyone extremely nervous, especially Coun. Mae Reid, who said in 2016, “There is no other city in the province that has ever had to break even on properties in order to get some kind of medical facility. I don’t know why Coquitlam has to be the first.”
While, Richard Stewart, Mayor of Coquitlam, wants Riverview to remain a focal point for the treatment of mental illness, which he said his city has long embraced. “We’re a little unusual in that regard,” Mr. Stewart said. “We want these facilities in our community.”
In 2017, Fraser Health forensic and other services are still available in a limited capacity on the site, but mostly Riverview has become a beautiful ghost town amidst the publics outcry of a public health emergency, affordable housing crisis and tragic lack of care and resources for youth and senior citizens. Without Riverview Hospital, communities of active addiction, recovery and homelessness have sprung up all over, including New Westminster, Surrey, Delta, Maple Ridge and the infamous DTES, but are these communities being properly served?
Are the millions of dollars funding services in the DTES being wasted due to its ongoing environment of active addiction? Are the residents of the DTES being helped, or simply being managed? Is there a two-tiered healthcare system where the expected results for those with an employer is abstinence, while those on social assistance is harm reduction?
Have funded treatment centres become the safe haven of those with undiagnosed mental illness to provide stability by meeting their basic needs for food, shelter and community? Do their staff and management, consisting mostly of recovering addicts with limited education, have the expertise beyond their empathy and shared experience, to help those with mental illness, regardless of their honest desire to do so? Are the many seniors living alone without a family doctor or proper medical care, at risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s, that wait a week to get help to bathe, really better cared for in their homes than in an affordable assisted living facility?
Are the youth, that are moved from place to place to avoid psychiatric assessments at the 60 day mark, really better served than the incorrigible youth of 1920? Will the prescription heroin some advocate for today, be the what were they thinking lobotomies and electric shock treatments of tomorrow? Have those that believe the overdose crisis is natures way of culling the herd and their solution of get a job and don't do drugs REALLY expanded their knowledge of mental health that much since the days of overcrowded dormitory wards?
Are supervised injection sites, jails for those suffering from mental health and addiction issues, homelessness and death by overdose a better solution today, than the institution of yesterday? How would property taxes and housing affordability be affected by realizing the vision of a Centre for Mental Health Excellence?
Could Recovery for Riverview be the win-win for the future of BC?
I am not saying that I have all the answers to these questions, nor am I suggesting reintroducing institutions, but instead I am suggesting that we utilize Riverview to meet the basic needs for food, shelter, healthcare and community to those suffering with mental health and addiction issues. I am suggesting that when a person asks for help, that help is available. I am not fully convinced that an honest, respectful and compassionate conversation focused on best practices, solutions and treatment options, based on the human rights and dignity of ALL their constituents, is possible with a BC Liberal government because they have proved to us over and over again, that they have no vision or compassion for Mental Health and Addictions Services in BC.
I have a vision of Recovery for Riverview that restores the original purpose for its land; a sanctuary and residential treatment facility for the mentally ill and a site for a provincial botanical garden, where all the different treatment programs and pathways for recovery meet in one glorious healing space.
It is possible.
Therefore, I am risking being an impolite Canadian by using my #right2write to #getloud with my sincere plea for those in recovery and their allies, to all British Columbians that care about people before profits, to be responsible for advocating for those who still suffer by casting your vote on May 9th, 2017 for The #BCNDP candidate in your riding.
... and please, share this article with someone else who might too!
All my Relations - Frances Stone, Ms. Recovery Writes
Author | Counsellor | Radio Host & Single Mama of 3
If you agree that The Riverview Lands should be preserved for their original purpose of a sanctuary and residential treatment facility for the mentally ill and a site for a provincial botanical garden ...
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References & Readings of Interest:
Frances Stone is the Author of A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story, a Recovery Counsellor and a Radio Co-Host of Talk Recovery Vancouver, a show about addiction and recovery issues, located in the DTES of Vancouver, BC. In her spare time, she does laundry and mothers three clever, curious and challenging little humans.