British Columbia

'No NIMBY here': Coquitlam mayor wants Riverview Hospital reopened

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart is asking that the old Riverview Hospital site in Coquitlam be rededicated to helping those with drug addiction and mental health issues.

'We just wanted to renew the call that we’re ready,' says Mayor Richard Stewart

The Riverview hospital in Coquitlam closed in 2012 after almost a century of use. Mayor Richard Stewart is calling for the site to be rededicated as a mental health and addictions rehabilitation facility. (City of Coquitlam)

The mayor of Coquitlam says the provincial government should consider reopening the facilities on Riverview Hospital lands as a mental health and addictions treatment centre to help stem the opioid crisis.

The Riverview hospital lands have had a number of facilities over the last 100 years, including one of the most significant psychiatric hospitals in the province.

The hospital was closed in 2012 and the future of its facilities and surrounding lands — many of which are considered heritage assets — have been the subject of speculation ever since.

In a widely-viewed Facebook video, Mayor Richard Stewart said in the midst of the opioid crisis that claimed 914 lives in British Columbia in 2016, the solution is simple: reopen the facility.

He told CBC's The Early Edition it would meet a need for those desperately needing help.

"We really want to help folks who have an addiction. Folks who step up and say 'I need help here' would be able to get that help on demand right now," he said.

Many of the buildings on the site are heritage assets. (City of Coquitlam)

Stewart said the facility wouldn't be opened in the same style as the era it was built in, but many of the buildings — despite their age — could easily be converted into usable space and beds.

"The North Lawn [building] was renovated as recently as 2007. It was very quickly renovated and brought up to code," he said, adding that it had also recently served as a set for the television show Wayward Pines.

Stewart referenced a 2014 report by clinical psychologist Dr. John Higenbottam which detailed the potential transformation for the Riverview hospital lands into a modern mental health and rehabilitation facility.

He said given the ongoing opioid crisis, that proposal seems more relevant now.

"We just wanted to renew the call that we're ready," he said. "Coquitlam doesn't have NIMBY about mental health and addictions and we really want to be part of the solution."

But psychiatry professor and UBC leadership chair for addictions research Michael Krausz says reopening the facility might not be the best use of resources during the crisis.

While he applauds Stewart for looking for solutions, he says the bigger need is in opioid substitution treatment and community support.

"We have waiting times across the board in terms of treatment capacity; it's nearly impossible to see a psychiatrist, it takes time to go into detox … I fully support the mayor's notion of treatment on demand," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"We need a range of options, but the key point from my perspective is to strengthen something there, where all these different people are living."

Krausz says municipalities can work immediately on strengthening their outreach capacity to help people in their communities.

With files from The Early Edition and On The Coast

To listen to the interview with Richard Stewart, click on the link labelled Mayor Richard Stewart on re-opening a mental hospital on the Riverview lands

To listen to the interview with Michael Krausz, click on the link labelled Professor says substitution, community care should be fentanyl priorities