12/18/2014 12:04 EST | Updated 02/17/2015 05:59 EST

Riverview Hospital: Dr. Gulzar Cheema applauds new program

A former Minister of State for Mental Health in B.C. says a new rehabilitation and recovery program at Riverview Hospital is a step in the right direction.

Dr. Gulzar Cheema - who served as Minister of State under Premier Gordon Campbell - was responding to news the provincial government announced 40 new beds for the Brookside and Hillside facilities under a program that will focus on helping drug-addicted mentally ill patients.

"I think mental health is finally getting the attention it deserves," Cheema told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Of the 40 new beds, 26 will be relocated from the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, and 14 new beds will be added.

"I think it's a good start, but I think the issue here is not 5 beds or 10 beds or 20 beds. The issue is we have a good program now," said Cheema.

Riverview has been sitting mostly empty since the 1990s, with the exception of three small mental health facilities operated by Fraser Health.

In June, the City of Coquitlam endorsed a report that called for the restoration of Riverview in order to provide mental health services, rehabilitation programs for addicts and an acute care hospital.

Cheema said the decision to close Riverview came as part of a push to get people treatment in their communities, and he sees the new program as an important step in furthering that goal.

"This announcement, this is a very significant step moving forward, because I think one of the the issues was the people with severe mental illness and addiction and other issues, they have to have a place where they can have comprehensive care, and then they can go back to the community."

Cheema would like to see similar programs developed throughout the province, but said it may be difficult to make that a reality.

"If we can develop programs like this across the province that will be very helpful, but these programs are very expensive."

To the full interview with Dr. Gulzar Cheema on The Early Edition, click the audio labelled: Dr. Gulzar Cheema reacts to Riverview announcement.