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The Centre Lawn building at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C., on Feb. 25, 2014.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

What was once the home for Metro Vancouver's mentally ill will soon be the location of a rehabilitation and recovery program for those battling mental-health and substance-abuse issues.

Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, B.C., first opened in 1913, began taking fewer patients in the 1990s and officially closed in 2012.

Health Minister Terry Lake announced Wednesday that a new program run by Coast Mental Health will offer 25 beds for men and 15 beds for women in two upgraded buildings on the old hospital grounds.

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Client services will include programs for ongoing support, assessment, crisis intervention, co-ordinated psychiatric and medical treatment, life and social skills, drug-and-alcohol recovery, jobs skills, education and peer support, said Lake.

"By providing community support through the rehabilitation and recovery program, we can help individuals with severe mental illness and substance-use concerns on their journey to wellness," said Lake in a news release.

The program will take a holistic approach, integrate primary care with mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, and help clients return to the community with continued support, the ministry added.

Lake's announcement quickly came under fire from the Opposition New Democrats and mental-health advocates who pointed out that of the 40 beds, only 14 will be newly funded and the remaining 26 will transfer to Coquitlam from the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction.

NDP health critic Sue Hammell said the 14 new beds are great for those who will receive them but they don't touch the need in a province of more than four-million people.

"It isn't as if we're not spending the money," she said. "We are putting people in jail, we are housing them in hospitals, we have police dealing with them, we spend huge money on social assistance and all kinds of other ways," she said.

Hammell said the province needs to get serious about responding to mental health, just as it has become serious about cancer treatment, and mental-health patients need a continuum of support.

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Bev Gutray, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division, said she is pleased people have somewhere to go where they can enter a period of stability and receive treatment from a multi-disciplinary team.

But Gutray said more focus needs to be placed on the return of people to their communities.

"At the end of the day, people will be coming home to their communities, and a chronic critical issue still remains, and that's people getting safe and secure housing with community-mental-health support," she said.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu and Mayor Gregor Robertson have called for an additional 300 long-term care beds saying they are needed to treat people suffering from mental health challenges and substance abuse.

The government moved to establish the programs at Riverview after extensive public consultations by B.C. Housing.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said the city is pleased with the government's decision to establish new services on the historic site, and he believes the site's mental-health role will continue.

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"It really, I believe, is the beginning of repurposing the site for health care, and I believe that a big component of that will be mental health," he said.

The announcement came on the same day that Island Health said it was investing $12.3-million to expand support for people with mental-illness and substances-use issues by opening 28 new substance use beds and 14 mental health care beds next year.

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