Reopen youth psychiatric unit: Nurses’ union

Adolescents being placed in adult wards

The BCNU is calling for a reopening of the adolescent psychiatric unit at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

The BCNU is calling for a reopening of the adolescent psychiatric unit at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is calling for the reopening of an adolescent psychiatric unit at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital, but Fraser Health says the youth mental health resources are being put into other necessary programs.

Gayle Duteil, BCNU president, said in a news release that currently, “vulnerable youth end up being placed in the adult psychiatric unit, alongside patients who may have sexually inappropriate behaviour or aggression, which is not safe patient care.

“And young children in need of urgent mental health services are being placed in the general pediatric unit with newborns, where treatment is very limited.”

BCNU says an immediate solution would be to reopen a state-of-the-art adolescent psychiatric unit (APU) at the local hospital, which was closed a few years ago.

But Stan Kuperis, Fraser Health’s director of mental health and substance use, said demand was low for the APU, which closed in 2008. The space is now being used for day programming for adolescents with mental health issues, he said, which is a much-needed service. He said the programs are for youth who need intensive daily support and is meant to provide services, without requiring hospital admission.

Fraser Health has announced a new Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Stabilization Unit (CAPSU) that will open in Surrey in 2016. That facility will provide short-stay assessment and crisis stabilization for kids ages six to 17 in acute psychiatric crisis, requiring urgent hospital intervention. The typical length of say will be five to seven days, while the APU had offered longer-term care, about 23 days. Fraser Health says it found that the need is for shorter stays.

But in calling for the reopening of the APU, Duteil said “kids in crisis need immediate care,” and cannot wait for the new beds to open in 2016.

The BCNU release also states that children and teenagers with mental health issues are facing 100-hour waits in Abbotsford’s ER because of a lack of beds.

Kuperis said that usually, a youth coming to Abbotsford hospital would be triaged through the ER. If it is a mental health issue, he said the child and youth crisis program would come in to provide a comprehensive assessment, and a determination would be made for what services are needed – whether it’s hospital admission or community support services.

“All of that typically occurs in under 10 hours.”

Kuperis said that overall, “youth here in Abbotsford and children, are receiving the services that they do need in safe and appropriate environments.”

However, the demand for youth mental health services remains high across the province.

An SFU report prepared for the Ministry of Children and Families concluded that only one third of the 80,000 children in B.C. with mental health issues who need help are getting it. The number of children and youth hospitalized for mental health issues in the Fraser Health Authority has doubled in four years, rising to about 1,200.

Over the last seven years, provincial spending on child and youth mental health services has failed to keep up with inflation or the growing number of client. The agency tasked with treating kids with mental health issues employs fewer nurses and psychologists than it did in 2008.