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Taking mental health treatment to Surrey streets

FHA is creating a program to offer mental health assistance to hard to reach people. - File
FHA is creating a program to offer mental health assistance to hard to reach people.
— image credit: File

Sitting in a Surrey park, he believes hospitals are not in his best interest, a belief that's part of his paranoid condition.

An outreach worker approaches, and makes an assessment of his condition, and calls in a nurse.

The homeless-person-turned patient is given treatment where he is.

Then the first pressing matter is to get the person housing, so they can be stabilized and put in an environment where continued care ls likely to succeed.

It's part of a program called Surrey Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program, the first of its kind in the Fraser Health Authority (FHA).

It's designed to take mental health treatment outside the walls of traditional hospitals, and bring them into settings more comfortable for vulnerable and and hard-to-reach clients.

""It's a tried and true evidence-based model for us serving the most seriously and persistently mentally ill who are often homeless (and) at-risk to be homeless...," said Lois Dixon, Executive Director, Mental Health and Substance Use Services, Fraser Health. "Our hope is by connecting them to the care/support they need, we'll not only improve their health and quality of life, but also stop the revolving door to the Emergency Department and to lengthy hospital stays."

In the internationally respected program, ACT provides services including comprehensive assessment, treatment, rehabilitation and support activities. As part of the Surrey Community Mental Health Service system of care, the ACT program reduces barriers through an outreach approach, provision of extended hours of service, and a ‘housing first’ philosophy, which promotes housing stabilization and patient/family satisfaction with services.

When fully functional, ACT will have the capacity to support approximately 80 to 100 individuals. In keeping with Provincial guidelines for ACT, client admissions to this new Fraser Health program will be staggered and build gradually to full capacity over the next several months.

FHA has committed $1.9 million annually to support the ACT program and local community MHSU services.

The ACT team includes a team coordinator, psychiatrist and 10-11 mental health staff including social workers, nurses, mental health care workers, occupational therapists and peer support workers. The team will be mobile with 75 per cent of their services delivered in settings such as a person’s home, shelters, drop-in centres, or parks.

There is significant cost savings to addressing the issues this group faces. When successfully treated, they will no longer be visiting ER five to six times a year, drawing on social services and sometimes police resources.

Dixon's team will assess over the year as to how successful the program is and to what magnitude "cost avoidance" the team has reached.

If successful, Dixon said FHA could use two such teams.

There are five in this province, however, Ontario has about 60 similar programs.

@diakiw

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