HEALTH Minister Terry Lake on Wednesday released an action plan to respond to the immediate and long-term health needs of patients with severe addiction and mental illness in all health regions.

The action plan is designed to better meet the needs of a specific subset of patients with the most complex form of Severe Addiction and / or Mental Illness (SAMI) who present a greater risk to themselves and others. Lake directed the Ministry of Health to develop the plan in response to community concerns in Vancouver and ensure evidence-based approaches are in place to better support patients throughout the province.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said: “This is a difficult problem and one that is going to require an ongoing commitment from a variety of partners. These first steps from the Ministry of Health will make a positive difference and put us on a path to making long-term changes.”

Immediate actions that will be taken by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) over the next 120 days include:

* Development of a nine- to 12-bed psychiatric assessment and stabilization unit adjacent to the emergency department at St. Paul’s Hospital;

* Creation of a new Assertive Outreach Team to serve individuals in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES);

* Two new Assertive Community Treatment Teams;

* Improved information-sharing protocols between key agency partners.

* An Implementation Committee comprised of senior officials from the Ministry of Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Housing, Vancouver Police Department, and the City of Vancouver, will also work towards longer-term solutions for high-risk SAMI patients in Vancouver.

Lake said the provincial government and partners will continue to work in collaboration with the City of Vancouver, through the Implementation Committee, the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions, and Project Link, which seeks to build stronger connections between health providers, police and the courts.

The Ministry of Health will also provide $750,000 annually to Providence Health Care’s Inner City Youth Mental Health Program to support a new Intensive Case Management Team to further enhance services available to homeless and inadequately housed youth aged 16-24.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) will assume a leadership role in developing and implementing a fully-articulated service delivery model to address the needs of SAMI patients across the province requiring high-intensity and longer-term care, including:

* Establish a Clinical Expert Panel to support an evidence-based service-delivery model for SAMI patients who require high-intensity services;

* PHSA will work with VCH to better position the 100-bed Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction to accommodate complex-need patients who require longer-term, high-intensity care.

* A new secure six-bed inpatient facility will be developed to provide stabilization, assessment and case planning – with additional overflow capacity of eight beds;

* Five new high-intensity group homes will be developed to serve a total of 20 clients – (at least one home will be a facility for young adults aged 16-24 linked to Providence Health Care’s Inner City Youth Mental Health Program).

The Ministry of Health is providing $5 million to support VCH and PHSA swiftly act on the recommendations this fiscal year.

Next fiscal year, the ministry will provide additional funding to all health authorities as part of an overall provincial approach totalling an estimated $20 million investment. Funding next fiscal year will include up to $12 million in matching funds to help regional health authorities further strengthen local services.