Barry Johnson Jr. washes a piece of equipment outside a barn that has to be one of the tidiest in the Fraser Valley.
The 48-year-old has a smile on his face as he greets a visitor, and proudly shows off the 33-year-old Arabian horse Willie inside.
The barn is on the grounds of Mountain View Home on Boundary Road on the border between Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
Johnson, who has suffered with schizophrenia since he was 14 years old, has lived at Mountain View for two decades, a year after his military father Barry Sr. was transferred to CFB Chilliwack in 1994.
Johnson’s mother 70-year-old Tove Olsen is one of nine Chilliwack-based families with a relative at Mountain View. Olsen has dealt with mental health issues for 60 years, since her own mother had a breakdown when she was just 10. And in Mountain View she sees all the ideal elements of a place for individuals, some of whom will never get better, whose mental illness symptoms will only ever be masked.
“Barry is working with horses out there, he worked cutting hedges, raking leaves, fed the birds, looked after goats,” Olsen told the Times. “It’s a wonderful little facility.”
But Mountain View’s days are numbered, the facility is set to close and few residents or families are happy about it. Fraser Health announced in August the facility would close by August 2016.
The single-level building located on a rural property has 25 rooms, each with ensuite bathrooms, a courtyard in the centre, home-cooked meals and 24-hour nursing care.
“The residents living at Mountain View care facility consider it home,” says Patrick Newby, RN and director of care for Mountain View.
The replacement for Mountain View is a new 50-bed mental health facility under construction on Marshall Road in Abbotsford. A groundbreaking ceremony for the facility to be run by the MPA Society, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization, was held in May.
The rationale behind the closing of Mountain View is unclear to Newby, to family members of clients, and to NDP health critic Judy Darcy and NDP mental health critic Sue Hammell, the latter two of which addressed the issue in the Legislature this month.
“I think it is almost irresponsible to close down a program that is so effective and whose setting is almost perfect,” Hammell told the Times.
Both Fraser Health and Health Minister Terry Lake say the reason for the closure is because Mountain View does not have multi-level care, in other words, a variety of less intense care options to help transition patients into independent living.
“The benefit of the Marshall Road campus is because assisted living and licensed care [24/7 health care] are on the same campus, there may be clients who actually would benefit from more independent style living,” Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said Tuesday.
The problem with that, according to Newby, Olsen and other family members is that everyone at Mountain View requires 24/7 care. The optimistic suggestion that all mental health patients will recover simply does not recognize the reality of some serious mental illness.
“There really is no cure [for schizophrenia],” Olsen said. “This is a lifelong thing.”
In an interview with the Times, Health Minister Terry Lake insisted mental health is a priority for all health authorities, and the level of service to the clients currently at Mountain View won’t change.
“If all of the patients at Mountain View want 24/7 service in the same format they have today, at Marshall Road, they can do that,” he said. “That’s really important to understand.”
As to the serenity of the setting and the shock for families, Lake pointed out that day-to-day decisions are not made by his ministry.
But he added that Fraser Health could have done a better job communicating with families.
“As health minister I don’t design every aspect of healthcare,” he said. “That really is the purview of the health authority. I met with the CEO and the chair of Fraser Health and we need to do a better job of communicating with families, and helping them understand what the transition is and how their families will be impacted.”
That comes after Andy Libbiter, Fraser Health executive director for mental health and substance use, said the response to the closure of Mountain View “has been very positive.”
In a letter to the editor submitted to the Abbotsford News, Libbiter claimed, among other things: “We have already met with all of our clients and the response has been very positive to date.”
Olsen was baffled by that statement.
“That is an out and out lie,” she said.
Katherine Newby, manager of care at Mountain View, agreed.
“They have not met with all the clients and their families and the response is not positive,” Newby said. “This is their home, and they are very anxious about the changes to come and the unanswered questions they have.”
Pat Newby said the families are being vigilant regarding the pending closure and have formed a strong advocacy group.
As for the health minister, Olsen doesn’t understand why, if a variety of options are needed, they would close 25 licensed care beds.
“If it is not a matter of money, what is it then? He kept talking about a variety of services. Well he is supplying us some at Mountain View.”
NDP health critic Judy Darcy said Fraser Health’s own projections suggest more than 900 beds are needed by the year 2016 and today there are fewer than 600.
Lake accused the NDP of politicizing the issue.
“The families were apparently in Victoria,” Lake said. “The NDP, they didn’t tell me they were coming so they didn’t ask to meet with me. . . . Unfortunately it ends up getting used for political purposes.”
Hammell denied the issue was being politicized, saying that she first heard about Mountain View closing through the media and she was only responding to questions from Global.
As for Barry, his mother said he really never grew up since his symptoms began as a young teenager.
“Barry will be 49 at the end of November. He is really like a 14-year-old. He has stayed at that level since he got ill. . . . He has 34 years in the system.”
Barry spent his 15th birthday in the psychiatric wing of the Yarmouth Hospital in Nova Scotia, and spent time in psychiatric care in Halifax and Hamilton, Ont. When they first came to B.C. in 1994 Barry spent a year at Riverview.
Then at the age of 28, he got a bed at Mountain View and his life has been as pleasant as can be expected since then.
Told he has to move out next August, his mother says he is not happy, and she fears the road ahead.
Add to that the fact that she has another son, Bo, who suffers from schizophrenia and who lives in her basement.
“He has no insight into his illness at all,” she said. “He is looking for somewhere to live, but of course it’s very difficult.”
At her age, with two adult sons with serious mental health issues, Olsen points to the homeless situation in Chilliwack and elsewhere. She calls the latest homeless count that found 73 people living on the streets “baloney.”
The so-called “hidden homeless” are either in the criminal justice system or are on couches and in basements across the city, in tenuous circumstances suffering from often undiagnosed conditions, and one step away from living on the streets.
“The next step is homelessness,” she said.