B.C. mental health funding frustrates advocates

Mental health advocates are urging the B.C. government to do more to help those battling mental illness, following a CBC Go Public report on the dilapidated conditions of the psychiatric ward at Vancouver General Hospital.

Provincial government blamed for years of neglect

A $12-million donation toward a new mental health facility at Vancouver General Hospital remains untouched, the CBC's Stephen Smart reports 3:49

Mental health advocates are urging the B.C. government to do more to help those battling mental illness, following a CBC Go Public report on the dilapidated conditions of the psychiatric ward at Vancouver General Hospital.

Several families with loved ones at the psychiatric facility at Vancouver General Hospital have told CBC News the aging facility is decrepit, overcrowded, ineffective and lacks basic security for patients. 

And critics say — despite at least one generous donation — the government is not acting quickly enough to replace the aging and crowded facility. 

Almost a year ago, real estate developer Joe Segal donated $12 million to help build a new mental health facility at VGH.

But that donation has gone untouched because the B.C. government has not yet committed the remaining funds needed for the project, Segal told CBC News.

"I'm a very patient individual but this thing should be moving hopefully within the next short period," Segal said Tuesday.

A battle to catch up

The failure of the B.C. government to act on Segal's donation comes as no surprise to Herschel Hardin, an advocate with the North Shore Schizophrenia Society.

Hardin has been battling for proper mental health funding since the 1980s, when the Social Credit government came up with a plan to close Riverview, the region's main mental health facility in Coquitlam, and attempt to integrate mental health patients back into communities.

After the Socreds were out of power, things only got worse, he said.

"The NDP in the 1990s — they tended to listen to families and were trying to slow down the process, but ultimately they went on with slowly closing down Riverview and since the Liberals came into power, they've accelerated the process."

Hardin said a few new facilities have been built, but not nearly enough to catch up with a quarter-century of neglect.

"For us, it's an eternal battle to bring the system up to speed and to get sufficient dollars into the system," he said.

Psychiatrist Dr. Bill MacEwen says mental illnesses are considerably widespread, but they are often not talked about enough — or acted on soon enough.

"These are illnesses that can be treated. This is stuff we could do for these individuals and you don't have to be ashamed of this," he said. 

Spending up 52%

The B.C. Ministry of Health has said that it increased spending on mental health and addictions issues by 52 per cent since 2001. In the last fiscal year, spending on these areas was around $1.3 billion.

About $138 million went to capital projects, such as the building of a new facility on Riverview lands and the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction.

The ministry also said it has almost doubled the total number of mental health beds since 2001 by adding 3,854.

Health Minister Mike de Jong said he would address more questions on mental health programs and spending in an interview with CBC News on Wednesday.

With files from the CBC's Terry Donnelly and Stephen Smart