Twenty people with severe and persistent mental illnesses living in an idyllic home on the Abbotsford/Chilliwack border are living day by day with only uncertainty on the horizon.
Slated for closure by the Fraser Health Authority in August 2015, 25-bed Mountain View Home on Boundary Road was given some measure of reprieve when it did not close a year later as planned in August 2016.
But despite an increasing need for mental health care, and the established success of Mountain View, the one-storey, rural facility is left to die by attrition as Fraser Health will not allow any new patients to be admitted.
“We lost another resident the other day, she passed way,” said Mountain View’s manager of care Katherine Newby. “If we lose one more, the contract changes and we can’t operate. There goes 25 beds.”
Each of the bedrooms in the single-level, wheelchair accessible building has ensuite bathrooms, there is a courtyard in the centre, home-cooked meals and 24-hour nursing care.
“These patients consider this home,” director of care Patrick Newby said this week.
The decision to close Mountain View back in 2015, came soon after the groundbreaking with Fraser Health officials and BC Liberal MLAs for the $7.7 million Marshall Road Residence in Abbotsford, slated then to house 50 people.
At that time, NDP health critic Judy Darcy and NDP mental health critic Sue Hammell addressed the closure of Mountain View in the legislature, speaking strongly against the move.
“I think it is almost irresponsible to close down a program that is so effective and whose setting is almost perfect,” Hammell told this reporter in an interview in October 2015.
Hammell is out of politics, but Darcy is now the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. While in opposition, Darcy suggested Fraser Health’s own projections suggest more than 900 beds would be needed by the year 2016 and at the time there were fewer than 600.
“When they were in opposition they went into the legislature and supported this facility and now they have dropped it like a hot potato,” Katherine said.
When asked about the NDP’s inaction on Mountain View since coming to power, a spokesperson for the ministry said only that “right now, the residentes at Mountain View are receiving the care they need in the appropriate setting.”
An emailed statement said the ministry is working on a “comprehensive strategy” to improve mental health and addictions care, services are being reviewed, and the ministry is committed to appropriate care.
“At this time, we won’t be making any decisions on the future of this facility until we complete the work on our mental health and addictions strategy.”
The Newbys, who own Mountain View, recently sent a letter to Andy Libbiter, Fraser Health’s executive director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. In it they suggest the closure makes no sense in the context of Fraser Health’s own action plan that states mental health housing has not kept pace with population growth.
“At no time has there been rationale as to the decision to close this valuable resource,” the letter states.
Chilliwack resident Tove Olsen’s 51-year-old son Barry Johnson Jr. has lived at Mountain View for more than two decades. Since being diagnosed with schizophrenia at 14, Barry has remained at that mental age ever since.
At Mountain View, he works with horses in the barn, he cuts hedges, rakes leaves and does other landscaping around the property.
“He’s doing marvelous,” Olsen said this week of Barry at Mountain View. “This is a totally old-fashioned concept. In the old days in mental health institutions, people would work in carpentry shops, in fields and they were getting paid for their labour so they felt so useful. Now they sit in front of a TV and stare at a screen.”
Olsen is 71 and says she does not need the stress of preparing for what’s next for Barry and the other even more vulnerable patients at Mountain View.
“The fact is it needs to keep open and I know there are a lot of people out there in psychiatric wards right now and there is nowhere for them to go,” Olsen said. “They need a place for them and I think Mountain View would be very suitable.”
Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said only that after listening to concerns of Mountain View residents and families, the health authority agreed to continue to support them if they wished to stay.
“Our vision for mental health and substance use housing services is to provide our clients with environments in which they can thrive and lead fulfilling lives,” Juma said. “In working with this population, we have learned that clients want more housing options. They would like the opportunity to live more independently in the community when appropriate or in an assisted living facility.”