Lower Mainland mental-health facility for children faces delay: The Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER and VICTORIA — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Oct. 06, 2015

The timeline for a new Lower Mainland facility that would provide urgent psychiatric care for children and teens has been pushed back, in part because corporate donors had not yet been lined up to back the project.

The 10-bed facility, to be located at Surrey Memorial Hospital, had been expected to open next year. On Monday, however, the Surrey hospital foundation – which is raising $2-million to help build the facility – identified two new donors for the project and said it would open in 2017.

That angered critics, who said families are already struggling to get the help they need and shouldn’t have to rely on corporate donations for health care.

“I don’t think it’s good enough to say, ‘Well, Surrey hasn’t fundraised enough,’” New Democratic MLA and children and family development critic Doug Donaldson said Tuesday in Victoria, just before the issue came up in Question Period.

“It really is ignoring the overall problem.”

In the legislature, Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said donors have been lined up to ensure the facility is built.

“I expect, with the announcement of two new major donors, Coast Capital Savings and Cloverdale Paint, that the Ministry of Health will be looking at more accurate timelines for the completion of that building,” she said.

Concerns about the new mental-health unit in Surrey are part of a broader discussion around gaps in service that flared up after the death of Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who died last month while in government care after being placed in a hotel.

A shortage of treatment facilities also played a role in the death of Alex Malamalatabua. As reported recently in The Globe and Mail, the 17-year-old died in March after spending nearly five months in a hospital psychiatric unit designed for short-term stays.

Outside the legislature, Ms. Cadieux acknowledged some families are having trouble getting the help they need.

“We know the number of children and youth with mental health issues is on the rise … and we know families are having difficulty accessing services,” Ms. Cadieux told reporters.

“So the reality is, that there is demand and Fraser Health recognized that demand and is looking to open [a facility with] specialized beds which will be the only one of its kind outside of Children’s Hospital. And I look forward to that happening.”

Along with questions related to youth services, the provincial government is facing calls to change how it is reviewing Mr. Gervais’s death.

The Sto:lo Tribal Council, which helped launch the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society, has asked the select standing committee on children and youth to refer Mr. Gervais’s death to B.C.’s child watchdog to investigate.

The Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society is a delegated aboriginal agency – one granted certain child-care authorities by the province – and was involved with Mr. Gervais before he died.

B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development is conducting its own review of Mr. Gervais’s death. But the Sto:lo Tribal Council wants the case referred to B.C.’s Child and Youth Representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, alleging comments by Premier Christy Clark have “corrupted” the director’s review now under way.

There are several ways a review could unfold, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said, adding that she had been copied on the request by the Sto:lo Tribal Council but had not yet had a chance to discuss options with any of the parties involved, including the delegated agency.

“I think the most important thing is that there be a thorough independent look at what happened,” Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.

The representative has the power to subpoena witnesses and demand records to be turned over while the ministry process is more of a file review.

On another front, an aunt of Mr. Gervais has called for a public inquiry into his death.

Asked about that letter, Ms. Clark referred to the ministry review.

“There is a [ministry] review under way and let’s let that take its course,” Ms. Clark said. “We would like it to happen quickly – which is not an advantage of a public inquiry, that’s for sure – because we need to get a clear understanding of what happened, as quickly as we can. So if there are problems, systemic problems we need to correct, we can do it fast.”

Under current government policy, children in care are to be placed in hotels only as a last resort, and only for a short period with any such placements reported to the ministry, Ms. Clark added.

“It doesn’t appear that all those policies were followed and we are trying to understand exactly what happened – when we do, we’ll make the results of that public and we’ll be able to act on that to try and fix it,” Ms. Clark said.