Funding approved for new ER mental-health zone at Burnaby Hospital

The redevelopment of Burnaby Hospital may still be years away, but staff at the aging health-care facility got some good news this week.

On Thursday, the Health Ministry announced it will spend $8.8 million toward building a new emergency mental-health and substance-use zone and consolidating outpatient clinics currently scattered around the hospital.

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The Burnaby Hospital Foundation will kick in another $5 million for a total of $13.8-million to pay for the so-called “interim sustainment plan.”

Health officials and Burnaby-North B.C. Liberal MLA Richard Lee were on hand at the hospital for the announcement.

So was Burnaby-Deer Lake NDP candidate Anne Kang, who didn’t put much stock in it.

“We’ve been waiting for more than a decade for an announcement,” she told the NOW, “and every time they make an announcement, it’s never pulled through. We don’t see any actions going on. What we have seen is, every time after an election, Christy Clark and the Liberals giving tax breaks to those million-dollar donors. What we really want to see is action in the Burnaby Hospital.”

Medical staff at the health-care facility, however, said they’ll take what they can get.

“I think the ministry’s looked at it all carefully,” said Dr. David Lough, who had been the hospital’s medical director up until last month.

While the overall plan to develop the hospital has been “churning away for years and year,” according to Lough, the interim sustainment plan has been in the works for only about 18 months and is badly needed.

“Here we’re sitting in the middle of 400,000 people and the old building was built in ’52, the emerg and some of this area here in ’78, and things change drastically, and certainly the mental health and our load in emerg has changed drastically for the community,” he said.

The new mental-health and substance-use zone will provide a private, low-stimulation space in the ER, staffed with mental health specialists.

“If you walk into a busy emergency department at say 8 or 9 o’clock at night,” Burnaby emergency department head Dr. Paul Johar told the NOW, “you’re going to hear bells ringing, people running around (‘patients groaning, vomiting and screaming,’ interjected Lough) right beside patients who need to sleep or who need rest.”

The details have yet to be worked out, according to Johar, but the new zone will limit stressful stimuli and afford patients more privacy during confidential interviews.

Work on the project is set to begin immediately and is scheduled to be complete by 2020.

Room for it will be found within the existing building, according to Lough, in space that isn’t currently being used, like medical-record storage areas left vacant by the transition to digital storage.

Asked if the opioid crisis has accelerated the implementation of the plan, Lough and Johar said probably not, since the business case for it has been in place for some time.

 “But it is timely,” Johar said.

As for the timeliness of Thursday’s announcement, so close to election time, the doctors declined to wade in.

“We’ll leave it up to reporters to conjecture about that,” Johar said. “We need the resources.”

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