As the designated Regional Pediatric Centre in the Fraser Health region, Surrey Memorial Hospital offers specialized and unique care to babies, children and youth from Burnaby to Hope. The Leader provides an inside look at how B.C.’s second-largest hospital has grown and adapted to treat its youngest and most vulnerable patients.
When her toddler was having trouble controlling his emotions, she could easily have attributed it to the notorious “terrible twos” making a timely appearance.
But mom Karen Copeland knew better. With an older child at home, and a keen awareness of her son’s growing body and personality, her gut was telling her there was much more to her second child’s irregular behaviour.
By the time kindergarten hit, the emotional and social gap between her son and other kids was readily apparent. If another child was in his space, he’d often react physically or with far more emotion than warranted.
“He struggled to get the words out,” Copeland recalls.
Go-to phrases such as “no” or “that’s stupid” would flow under stressful situations at school, and friendships were difficult to maintain. Counsellors and doctors began doling out diagnoses. One talked about autism, another speculated ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
By that time, Copeland was beginning to learn about youth mental health issues.
In Grade 2, it was finally determined her son suffered from an anxiety disorder. Still, other serious issues persisted, and so did the assessments and testing.
Things escalated in middle school and the problems became more significantly pronounced. The boy – with adolescence looming – began a specialized program at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Residents of Abbotsford, Copeland, her husband and son had to live in a Vancouver hotel for five-and-a-half weeks while the pre-teen received treatment. Meanwhile, their daughter stayed with relatives in Abbotsford.
“It was hugely disruptive to our family,” Copeland (pictured below) says, adding being away from their home and daughter, living in an unfamiliar environment and eating out daily only added to the heavy emotional load they were carrying.
“It was very overwhelming.”
While Abbotsford has an adolescent day treatment program, there are currently no short-stay psychiatric beds for children or youth anywhere in the Fraser Health region – which stretches from Burnaby to Hope. The only other option is a six-bed unit at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Had there been something closer to home to help her son, says Copeland, life would have been easier.
“If you’ve got a child that’s really in distress and have to transport them all the way to Vancouver…” she laments.
Enter the Child Adolescent Psychiatric Stabilization Unit (CAPSU) planned for Surrey Memorial Hospital. The facility, destined for the space where the former Emergency Department was located, will have 10 short-stay beds specifically for patients between six and 17 displaying severe, acute mental health symptoms.
Right now, youth who are suicidal or facing other crises are treated at the emergency room, sent to the regular pediatric ward, transferred to the adult psychiatric unit (if they’re older), or put in the 10-bed adolescent psychiatric unit (intended for youth 13 and older requiring longer-term treatment).
And while those options are safe and adequate, says Andy Libbiter, they are not ideal.
As executive director of mental health and substance use services for Fraser Health, Libbiter explains that the CAPSU will involve a specialist team – consisting of psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses and others.
“Children and teens with mental health issues have needs that are quite significantly different than adults,” he says, pointing to requirements involving development, family and identity, in addition to the fact they’re still in school. “They (medical staff) will work intensively with the child and the family.”
CAPSU will provide a bed for five to seven days, when a patient can be thoroughly assessed and stabilized
“We’re not sorting out every single thing,” says Libbiter. “We’re settling things down and then working out what needs to happen for the child and family.
“The evidence is very clear now that with mental illness, the earlier you intervene effectively, the better the outcome.”
He emphasizes the new unit will be part of a continuum of services and a “piece of the puzzle” in bettering mental health care for young people.
“It’s an important part, but it’s not the be all and end all, by any means.”
It’s hoped the CAPSU will not only provide earlier intervention, but reduce the time teens and children in crisis spend in the ER and get them to a specialist more quickly.
Copeland (above), whose son is now 13, has since become an advocate for youth mental health and wellness, establishing a website (championsforcommunitywellness.com/) to inspire people to “think bigger, think outside the box.” A blog she wrote last year called “I Am ‘That’ Parent” garnered widespread attention.
“One of the best things that ever happened for me was connecting with other parents and hearing their experiences,” she says.
Having endured tough times accessing care for her child, she feels strongly about the need for a facility such as CAPSU in the Fraser Health region and is thrilled to see it taking shape.
“They’re saying that our youth matter,” she says.
The new unit is scheduled to open by spring 2017. It’s it will serve about 1,000 children and adolescents per year.
A home-like place to heal
Since last spring, the Surrey Hospital and Outpatient Centre Foundation has been raising funds to elevate the youth psychiatric unit beyond the basics.
“Really, it’s about creating a home-like, stable environment,” said Jane Adams (below), president and CEO of the foundation.
While Fraser Health and government have committed to covering the cost of the $6.7-million facility, the hospital foundation is in the midst of raising $2 million for furniture and other components appropriate to the type of specialized care provided at the Child Adolescent Psychiatric Stabilization Unit (CAPSU).
Thanks to a $1-million gift from Cloverdale Paint, $300,000 from Coast Capital Savings and $150,000 from the hospital auxiliary and numerous other donors, the foundation is just $200,000 away from reaching its fundraising goal.
“The community has been overwhelmingly supportive,” said Adams, crediting the level of backing to an increased awareness. “I think there’s been a lot of work, much of it by the media, around mental health literacy.
“It’s really resonating with a lot of people. There are very few families that haven’t been impacted in some way.”
The funds raised by the foundation will be about much more than nice-looking decor and child-friendly artwork, however.
The psychiatric unit will include unique elements and extraordinary features designed to cater to the comfort and needs of young patients with psychiatric disorders, many of whom may arrive over-stimulated or in extremely anxious states.
For example, there will be a Snoezelen room, designed to reduce agitation and increase relaxation by controlling stimuli such as lighting and sound.
As well, because the unit will treat such a wide age range (six- to 17-year-olds), there will be public spaces where all ages can come together, as well as separate areas where they can be with people closer to their age.
A kitchen area will also be available and each patient will have his/her own bedroom – one that bears little resemblance to a standard hospital room.
“They’ll make it as home-like as they can,” Adams said.
In addition, the foundation hopes it can help fund a peer counselling-type program so youth who have battled mental illness can speak to young kids and teens who are in the midst of treatment. A similar program for parents to connect is also being considered, said Adams.
To make a donation to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Stabilization Unit, visit www.championsforcare.com/kidsmentalhealth.html or call 604-588-3371.
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