Abbotsford Regional to get ER space for mental health patients

Officials hope space will both increase security and reduce congestion at ARH.

Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Officials hope a new emergency area specifically for mental health and substance use patients at Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) will increase safety and ease persistent congestion problems.

Fraser Health announced this week that a “low-stimulus, therapeutic and secure space” for mental health and drug use patients would be created adjacent to the existing ER.

In addition to consultation rooms and its own nursing station, to be staffed around the clock, the unit will also have lockable seclusion rooms – a resource not currently available at ARH.

The new space, which is expected to open in the summer of 2017, will be renovated and result in the hiring of eight or nine nurses, according to Valerie Spurrell, ARH’s executive director.

It’s hoped the addition will address several prominent challenges faced by the hospital.

The safety of workers at the hospital has been under the spotlight since a patient in hospital for medical and mental health reasons violently assaulted a nurse last year.

It was also revealed this week that a “violent incident” occurred in September after the admission of a mental health patient into an over-capacity emergency department. According to WorkSafeBC documents obtained by The News, two psychiatric liaison nurses, along with a security guard, were injured, although the details of the assault were redacted. WorkSafe suggested that the hospital needed to review and establish procedures to minimize the risk to workers.

A July 2015 Violence Risk Assessment Report had recommended that the hospital create “a secure safe place for aggressive patients” in the emergency department.

Spurrell said the addition has been in the works for some time and that it should improve the safety of both patients and staff.

“It is a more secure environment,” she said. “It’s something everyone has wanted – staff, the physicians and the patients and families.”

The ARH emergency room has also faced congestion issues for years. Despite a variety of initiatives, the hospital has been unable to improve measures of its ability to move patients through the ER in a timely manner.

Spurrell said the additional space and the resources will both ease the crowded nature of the ER, while improving patient experience.

“Congestion has been an issue,” she said. “This will help with that. It won’t solve anything, but it will definitely be a big help.”

• • • • •

Earlier this month, Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich told council the number of people apprehended under the mental health act has skyrocketed in recent years.

Police took 849 people into custody in 2015 because they were deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. That’s an increase of 257 per cent from 2010, when just 238 people were taken into custody under the act. Those apprehended are usually admitted to a hospital, rather than a jail cell.

Rich said it’s unclear why the increase has been so substantial, but that “it is a community-wide issue” and not limited to Abbotsford.

In August, the Georgia Straight reported that apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Actby the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) had risen from 2,278 to 3,050 between 2010 and 2015. That increase represented a 34 per cent uptick in such mental health act apprehensions. Total apprehensions, including those under different parts of the act, rose 209 per cent.

 

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