However, the $20-million plan appears to be far from what Vancouver's mayor and police chief called for two months ago, when they pleaded for help to curb what was described as a mental health crisis on the city's streets.
Health Minister Terry Lake said Wednesday that over the next four months, the province will establish a nine-to-12-bed psychiatric assessment and stabilization unit at St. Paul's Hospital, which sees the majority of Vancouver's psychiatric emergencies because its closest to the impoverished Downtown Eastside.
"It was clear that there are gaps in some very hard-to-serve people that tend to concentrate in certain areas — the Downtown Eastside being one of them — that weren't having their needs met because they are a very difficult population to serve," Lake told reporters.
"This is a very collaborative effort to focus resources to deal with that very vulnerable part of our population and to consider the safety and security of citizens."
The program also includes better information-sharing between health authorities and police departments, two new outreach teams to serve people in the Downtown Eastside, and two more Assertive Community Treatment Teams — or ACT teams, which consist of psychiatrists, nurses, addiction counsellors and social workers who treat the mentally ill.
The plan also incorporates what Lake said are broader goals, such as establishing a new six-bed inpatient facility and five new group homes, and investing $750,000 annually in services for homeless youth.
Lake's announcement partially addresses an appeal by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Police Chief Jim Chu asking the province for help with a growing crisis of random attacks on the streets, police call outs, and emergency room visits involving those with severe mental illnesses.
It's the third time in five years that the Vancouver Police Department has asked for help, despite the B.C. government pouring millions of dollars into mental health and addiction services and supportive housing every year.
Chu said then that 21 per cent of city police's calls involve someone who is mentally ill, and St. Paul's Hospital has seen a 43 per cent spike over three years in patients with severe mental health or addictions problems.
Chu and Robertson made five recommendations to address the situation, including more support through the ACT teams and creating outreach teams that partner police officers with nurses.
But Chu and Robertson also suggested adding 300 long-term treatment beds, establishing a crisis centre, and increasing staff at BC Housing sites to support people with psychiatric issues.
Robertson said at Wednesday's media conference that while he appreciates the province taking some urgent steps, more needs to be done to help an estimated 300 people living in Vancouver with severe mental illnesses.
"There's some immediate actions that address the crisis, but we'll need to follow through on those next steps to ensure we're stabilizing as many of the 300-odd people who are at highest risk as urgently as possible," he said.
Opposition NDP mental health critic Sue Hammell called Lake's plan a good first step, but the government needs to more proactive.
"This is downstream work," she said in a phone interview. "This is work that is needed when people are in crisis. What we have to do in the long run is get upstream and do a lot of serious intervention which, in the long run, will not waste lives...and not waste resources financially."
There is currently a 100-bed facility in Burnaby, east of Vancouver, for people with mental health and addiction issues.
Lake said the province will try to better position that facility to accommodate patients who need longer-term care, but more research needs to be done on the need for additional long-term care beds.
"There very well may be patients who can, with intensive case management, manage very well in the community," he said.
"There very well may be some who do need long-term secure housing. I think it's wrong to put the number first before you get the evidence that leads you there."
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