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An illustration of the Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre, which will open at Vancouver General Hospital in 2017. (Courtesy VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation)
An illustration of the Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre, which will open at Vancouver General Hospital in 2017. (Courtesy VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation)

Corporate donation means VGH mental health facility can be built Add to ...

The total capital cost for a new mental-health facility at Vancouver General Hospital is now fully funded, bringing what will be B.C.’s largest such facility one step closer to reality.

Bell Canada announced Monday it is donating the final $1-million to the $82-million Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Centre, named after the philanthropic couple that earlier donated $12-million toward its construction. The province contributed $57-million.

The eight-storey facility, slated to open in 2017, will not offer any new provincial beds, because the 100 beds will be transferred from the existing 70-year-old facility and elsewhere within VGH. However, the private patient rooms, each with their own bathrooms, will be a marked improvement from the existing facility, which has four people to a room, with one shared bathroom on each floor.

“[It will be] a comfortable place of recovery that will be aided by natural light, exercise facilities, rooftop gardens, outdoor space and areas for meditation and quiet time,” said Kip Woodward, board chair of Vancouver Coastal Health. “It means a welcoming place for family and friends to visit. In short, it adds up to a new era in the provision of mental-health care.”

Soma Ganesan, medical director of psychiatry for VGH, also spoke to the importance of environment in treating mental illness.

“When people first access care, they access a terrible environment, waiting in the emergency room for seven or eight hours when they are acutely distressed,” Dr. Ganesan said. “They may be in an environment that is so noisy and so inconducive to health care.”

Brian Jackson, Vancouver’s general manager of planning and development, said the facility’s development permit was approved on Monday and the building permit approval will be the next step. Mr. Jackson called that next step a top priority.

At VGH and St. Paul’s Hospital, emergency room visits for mental health and substance misuse have increased by 55 per cent in the past five years, reaching 15,450 in 2014. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Police Chief Jim Chu have labelled the situation a “crisis,” pleading for more assistance from the provincial government.

In 2014, the province launched new services such as an Assertive Outreach Team in Vancouver and a new acute behavioural stabilization unit at St. Paul’s as part of its Mental Health Action Plan.

While Mr. Robertson and Chief Chu have recommended 300 new long-term mental-health treatment beds, Health Minister Terry Lake said the province’s priority is to move away from such a model and instead toward community-based supports.

It was a strategy echoed Monday by Laura Case, chief operating officer for VCH Vancouver Community.

“We don’t want to build more beds; we want to really focus on how we can keep people out of the emergency department,” she said. “We’re really trying to focus on how best to help people in the community, but have the beds there for those who need them.”

The Segals’ $12-million donation is one of the largest-ever personal gifts for mental-health in Canada. When asked what drove him to make such a sizable donation, Mr. Joseph said it came from a place of empathy.

“You have an obligation, if you live in the community, to be sure that you do your duty,” he said after Monday’s announcement. “Mental health was under the rug, and we tried to lift the rug so it can become visible.”

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