Monday December 20, 2010

Local News 

One Flew East And One Flew West...

Parkholm nest a long way from Riverview   

Staff/Voice photos


ringing in patients from Riverview 60-miles away to Parkholm Lodge in Chilliwack and the fact that the city is giving up over 40 seniors intermediate care beds in exchange for 20 mental health beds, was the elephant in the room at a Fraser Health Authority (FHA) news conference last Thursday.

                                                   FHA officials meet with Penner, Gaetz and Les Thursday.


Lois Dixon, the FHA executive director of addiction and mental health services, was joined by MLA's Barry Penner, John Les and Mayor Sharon Gaetz at Parkholm Place, where it was announced the facility will be getting $2.3-million in renovations on the second floor to make room for a 20-bed mental health facility.

The FHA partnered with local government and the province to fund the $115,000/bed mental health unit which will be an intensive tertiary program facility accessible only by clients from the now-defunct Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam. Even after Riverview has been exhausted of it's denizens, Chilliwack residents suffering from mental illness still won't be able to have access.

FHA was late in making the Parkholm announcement because work on gutting the second floor was already well under way by the time the conference was called.

In 2002, the Lodge closure caused severe whiplash in the community when doe-eyed seniors were yanked out and slam-dunked elsewhere. At the time, the move was seen as being particularly mean-spirited because even couples were displaced and set apart from each other. Now, some 9-years later, the goal of giving away rare long-term care beds has been fully realized.

Despite being closed to intermediate care since 2002, the second floor at Parkholm hasn't lain fallow. It has been used for pediatric and diabetes outpatient clinics who were also moved later to locations on the Chilliwack General Hospital grounds to make way for the project.

Dixon said that "Most importantly it is a partnership with the consumers and clients of our service and their families, and they have been involved in the planning to date, overall for the Riverview project and more specifically here in Chilliwack."

Chilliwack MLA John Les said the government has committed $138-milllion to the Riverview Redevelopment Project and that Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District chipped-in $800,000.                                                                     MLA for Chilliwack John Les.

"The needs are obvious and the closing down of Riverview didn't mean that the needs went away," said Les. "I think this is what I would refer to as a distributed model of caring for these people and this is far, far better rather than the warehousing approach that was taken for so many years."

Les was right when he talked about how "patients" are better off in the community.

"There (was) a stigma that used to attach to people having to go through Riverview or be institutionalized as it were, it's more compassionate this way and I think we'll be far more successful."

When Riverview went through it's initial death dance in 1998, the effect was immediately felt in the downtown eastside of Vancouver where many of the displaced ended up moving. The rooms were affordable on their income however, hapless people with mental issues were thrust onto the streets amidst the all negative elements in that community, and with devastating consequences.                             Lois Dixon (C) speaks about the Parkholm project.

In 1985, the government closed the inmate-operated Colony Farm, which was also a part of Riverview. Over the ensuing years housing developments crept up to the farm nestled alongside Pitt River where it meets the Fraser. It was only through the diligent efforts of local naturalists and environmentalists that it became part of the GVRD parks system.

As for Riverview's prime real estate, there is nothing on the drawing board or a redevelopment plan in place. It's anyone's guess what will happen with the ancient gothic structures overlooking the Fraser River and the huge tract of land it sits on. One would be loathe to consider that the government may have bailed on Riverview with the mother-of-all land deals in mind.

In an e-mail to the Voice post conference, FHA media representative Marie Nightingale, said that "Shared Services BC, Ministry of Citizens' Services manages the site and the use of the buildings on behalf of the Provincial Government, and will lead the planning for the site following the transfer of the Riverview patients. A plan has not been developed yet for the site."

At Rainier School in Washington, developmentally disabled clients have a whole town to themselves. It's a big section of land in Buckley with dozens of houses where clients live in a community setting. Each house has 12-16 residents who are tended to by staff on a ratio of 4:1 Other houses with harder-to-house clients have fewer occupants and the staff-to-client ratio jumps to 1:1.

The School works well. It has a confectionary store, post office, coffee shop and places for residents to work at tasks like shredding paper. Riverview had the same thing. It's not clear what was wrong with Riverview that it had to be closed. Perhaps all it needed was just a reworking of what was there and spread out to more houses on the large parcel of land where a Rainier-like community can be fostered.

Instead, what appears to be happening, is that BC's overburdened mental health system is being decentralized, privatized and pieced off to communities in the Fraser Valley. Hence fallout from the Riverview closure is still rippling through communities the Lower Mainland almost 12-years later where cities like Chilliwack are being asked to absorb mentally ill people from Riverview. One has to wonder just how environ-mentally friendly that is.

The front doors to Parkholm are one-way and a code is needed to exit. The unit was referred to on Thursday, more than once, as being more like a "community" than Riverview. However, institutionalized-looking halls and doors make it more conducive to a prison setting than a community setting.

BC needs more mental health housing units, but should places like Chilliwack be asked to give up senior care beds to get back even less in mental health beds?

The stigma of mental illness that Les is talking about begins with a label. For example, in BC, an institution like Riverview is called a "hospital". In Washington, it's called a "school". When you call people with mental illness "patients" instead of "clients" then yes, Virginia, there is a stigma.

BC's mental health professionals and advocates should look at what the Americans are doing with genuine communities like Rainier School and the FHA really shouldn't make comparisons about an institution that is supposed to be all about "community" when this just isn't the case with Parkholm.


Copyright (c) 2010 The Valley Voice