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Fraser Health claims staffing key to opening PAH mental health space

MLA Sturko charges delay and lack of planning ‘unacceptable’

Fraser Health is doubling down on assertions that delays in utilizing an expansion of Peace Arch Hospital’s Emergency Department – including a specialized area to support people who present to hospital with mental health and/or substance use concerns — are due to challenges finding staff.

Fraser Health spokesperson Dixon Tam said, in an emailed response to questions, that it continues to be business as usual at the hospital, however.

“All patients who present to the Peace Arch Hospital with mental health and/or substance use concerns will continue to be supported in the Emergency Department, Tam told Peace Arch News.

“Fraser Health is committed to ensuring people in our region who have health concerns related to mental health and substance use have access to the services and supports they need across our continuum of care,” he said.

But Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko – also Mental Health and Addictions Shadow Minister – said Thursday the NDP Government and Fraser Health have had more than enough time to have prepared a staffing plan for the new space.

Earlier in the week Sturko and fellow BC Liberal White Rock MLA Trevor Halford issued a call to Premier David Eby to take action on the issue, charging that “a new mental health and substance unit” had been promised at the hospital, but still hasn’t opened.

“A year ago, the NDP announced a new dedicated mental health and substance use unit as part of renovations to the Peace Arch Hospital to be completed in the summer of 2022, but six months later it still hasn’t opened,” said Halford.

“My community was promised this essential facility would be operational by now, but an ongoing dispute between the province and Fraser Health has left the doors closed, preventing the delivery of vital care to people in need.”

Tam countered that it’s a misnomer to call the new zone within the Emergency Department a “new mental health and substance use facility”.

“There are no funding issues that are preventing this zone from opening,” he added – only issues of finding the staff to work in it.

“The two psychiatric liaison nurse positions that are required to open this specialized area are approved and funded, and Fraser Health is working to hire staff to fill these roles as quickly as possible,” Tam said.

Sturko said that, however it is parsed or rationalized, the delay is “unacceptable.”

“However they want to categorize the new space, it’s closed and it should be open,” she said.

She noted the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation has contributed $38.5 million to the $91.05 million overhaul of the hospital, and part of that includes a recognition by the people of White Rock and South Surrey that mental health and substance abuse supports are important to the community.

READ ALSO: Expansion of Peace Arch Hospital emergency ward, surgical suites now complete

“We want to provide people in crisis with the best possible treatment they can get,” she said.

“With six people dying from a drug overdose in B.C. every day, this is genuinely a life-or-death situation — we cannot afford this unacceptable delay to mental health and substance use care in B.C.”

The approval for the project took place while the BC Liberals were still in power Sturko said.

“That’s more than five years to come up with a staffing plan — they had a five-year head start on it,” she added.

“Even if the space wasn’t open, staff could have been brought on to augment the existing mental health and substance abuse staff in (in the Emergency Department),” she said. “I find it ridiculous, and a lack of good management.”

Tam said the new space, in Phase 2 of Peace Arch Hospital’s Emergency Department – which was opened in October of last year – includes a specialized area featuring two private consulting/quiet rooms, one patient exam room, one seclusion room, a waiting area, and a nursing station.

”The addition of this new zone will allow for patients to be treated in a separate area of the Emergency Department,” he said.

“For example, the two private consult/quiet rooms are for patients to be seen by care providers away from the general noise of the Emergency Department – we have similar zones at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Burnaby Hospital and Abbotsford Regional Hospital.”

Patients with mental health or substance concerns are still being seen in the Emergency Department until the new zone can open, Tam reaffirmed.

“As with any health concern, if a patient needs a higher level of care, the hospital will transfer them to another site within Fraser Health’s hospital network to ensure they receive the supports they need.”

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