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Changes to mental health program spark concern
The closure of evening mental health clinics in the Fraser Health Authority has the BC Nurses Union (BCNU) raising the alarm.
As of Sept. 1, the evening clinics, some of which were open twice a week until 8 p.m., were phased out in Surrey, Langley, New Westminster, Tri-Cities, White Rock and Burnaby. The clinics accepted walk-in clients as well as those referred by doctors, and provided counselling, help administering medication and group therapy. Now those and other services will only be available between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
“Night clinics offer invaluable services to people who struggle with mental illness, many of whom can’t get there during the day because of their work, volunteer or school schedules,” said Debra McPherson, president of the BCNU, in a press release. “It makes no sense for Fraser Health to be reducing mental health services, when the need is greater than ever.”
The move comes amid calls by Metro Vancouver mayors to re-open Riverview Hospital and by police chiefs across Canada to provide better health services for the mentally ill who otherwise often end up being apprehended by police under the Mental Health Act.
“Mental health services need to be accessible to all,” said McPherson. “They need to be maintained at current levels, not cut. Many of the clients are the working poor and unlikely to have jobs that allow them to take time off during the day for doctor’s appointments. They may wind up not getting the help they need in a time of crisis.”
For its part, Fraser Health said the move is not a cut in services but simply a re-allocation of resources to when they're most needed.
"The decision to realign our resources was due to the fact that demands for daytime services have been increasing and we are unable to meet those demands with current staff rotations," said Denyse Houde, Fraser Health's director of clinical programs, in an emailed statement.
Houde said 99 per cent of its current clients access services during daytime hours.
"This change will reduce the wait times that daytime clients have been experiencing, and align with other clinics across the rest of Fraser Health that do not provide evening clinic hours.”
In Burnaby, the change affects 12 to 15 clients who were attending each of two evening group therapy sessions each week at Burnaby Mental Health Centre on Kincaid Street, said Fraser Health.
In New Westminster, it affects three to six clients who received assessments and therapy one evening a week at the New Westminster Mental Health Centre on Sixth Street.
In both cases, the services will be moved to daytime hours.
Such services that will continue to be offered after regular business hours including psychiatric liaison nurses in all emergency departments, mental health and police liaison services and the Fraser Health crisis line.