New mental health and substance-use unit at Lions Gate Hospital aims to provide comprehensive care

Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, B.C., pictured on March 13, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, B.C., pictured on March 13, 2020. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

A new emergency area at Lions Gate Hospital aims to provide comprehensive treatment to patients seeking mental health and substance use care.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority first announced its plans to build the Psychiatric Emergency Assessment and Treatment (PEAT) unit in May.

In a statement Wednesday, the health authority said the unit is already receiving patients at eight dedicated spaces within the emergency department and will be staffed with two mental health and substance use nurses and one emergency department nurse.

"[Patients] come into the emergency department. They get seen by a nurse who determines what area of the department they need. And if it's determined that they come with a mental health or substance-use issue, then they will be moved into the PEAT area, which is within the emergency department," said Ira Roness, director of North Shore and Sea to Sky Mental Health and Substance Use Services.

PEAT's service provider says it hopes the new staffing model — which includes dedicated psychiatrists — will help patients long after they have left the care of the hospital.

"[The care] could include a short stay in the PEAT unit, and once we have that, we can determine whether they are going to be discharged, linked with our community services that we have with our out-patient mental health substance use teams. Or it could be determined that they need a longer stay and might be admitted to the hospital," he added.

Call for more psychological care

Last November, the B.C. Psychological Association and other health professionals submitted a joint proposal to the province about bringing more psychologists into primary care networks, where family doctors could give patients same day, on-the-spot referrals.

"It's been really hard for everybody, especially people on the front line, especially families," said Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson.

"[Patients] may get very focused care when they're in hospital. But what happens on the other side? We're really determined to connect people with longer-term care so that we're not just working at a crisis level, but we're supporting people so that they truly get better after they leave the hospital," she added.

The PEAT area's open design maintains "clear lines of sight," the health authority added, which it says will allow front-line staff to more easily assess rapid changes in a patient's physical or mental health but will also accommodate the need for privacy, providing a room for private patient or family meetings, and safety mechanisms to protect patients and staff.

"Success looks like someone that comes into our health-care system, in the crisis of their lives, that [patients] and their families feel on the other side that they've been treated with dignity, that they feel better, that they feel heard, and that we've been able to work with them to navigate them to the supports in community to the support through our health-care system that is going to help them get better one person at a time," Malcolmson said.