By Sarah Payne The Tri-City News
A Port Coquitlam-based mental health support organization has responded with some skepticism to the possibility of re-opening Riverview Hospital.
Gisela Theurer, director of rehabilitation for the New View Society, said staff members had “mixed feelings” about the suggestion from Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan that some 1,500 mentally ill homeless people be housed at Riverview.
While it was greeted as a positive way to provide short-term recovery services, Theurer said any plans to re-open Riverview would have to come with strategies to transition clients to long-term, supported housing.
“They closed Riverview so quickly, the services didn’t follow people to the community,” she said, “and now they’re paying for it.”
Riverview reached its peak population of about 4,600 patients in 1951. By the mid-1980s, institutionalization was increasingly frowned upon and the hospital was slated for closure. The plan was never fully implemented and about 300 patients still live at Riverview.
Theurer said it’s not clear what Sullivan meant when he said that there are semi-independent living units â€” not the old dormitory buildings â€” at Riverview where people could live.
Cottonwood and Connelly lodges offer supported living arrangements but only house about 30 people each. A third is planned to open soon but it’s unclear whether Sullivan, whose idea has been supported by the premier and Health Minister George Abbott, hopes to cover the Riverview grounds with enough buildings to house 1,500 people.
Theurer said if a detailed plan is worked out, one that focuses on recovery and the roots of mentally ill homelessness, it can be productive.
But short-term services around addiction and treating the mental illness need to be attached to a long-term plan that offers long-term housing, social integration, teaching life skills and educating the public.
Sweeping the homeless under a rug to prettify the city in time for the 2010 Olympics, which Theurer said some New View staffers suspect could happen, won’t work.
Sarah Plank, manager of media relations for the Ministry of Health, said at this point there’s no proposal for re-opening Riverview but that government is simply looking at options for the hospital’s future.