New integrated mental health teams for people with severe mental health challenges will be added in Victoria, Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley, which could help the heavily over-burdened teams take on new clients in need of help.
Six new Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams — made up of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, nurses, police, addiction-recovery workers, mental-health workers and probation officers — will be added across the province, the B.C. government announced Sunday.
In addition to the three new teams on Vancouver Island, ACT teams will also be added to Vancouver, Maple Ridge and Kelowna. Up to 60 new people will be hired.
Victoria currently has four ACT teams with about 340 clients.
The mobile teams support people living in the community with complex mental health challenges, often compounded by substance use, by delivering their medication, taking them to appointments, providing supports for substance use disorder, helping them find housing or intervening when someone is in crisis. Police officers assigned to the ACT teams are notified of any police incidents involving clients.
Mark and Sheena Eraut have been struggling for years to get help for their 24-year-old son, Lochlan, who is addicted to fentanyl and has spent the last several years in and out of jail for drug offences, petty theft, which Sheena Eraut calls “survival crimes”. He also struggles with mental health issues relating to a surgery when he was 15 to remove a frontal lobe tumour.
Mark Eraut said he put in an application for Lochlan to be considered for one of the ACT teams three months ago but has not heard back as to whether he’s on a wait list.
However, both Mark and Sheena Eraut, who live on the Saanich peninsula, are concerned that treating Lochlan in the community — where he is living in a tent in Cecelia Ravine park — does not provide the continuity of care the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has promised for people with complex addiction and mental health needs.
“In the present condition that he’s in, I don’t see how any outreach team is going to connect with him,” said Sheena Eraut, who said when she saw her son on the weekend, after weeks of not being able to find him, he was gaunt and frail, estimating he weighed less than 120 pounds on his five-foot-nine frame.
“I still think that people like Lochlan are still going to fall through the cracks until he can be put somewhere where there’s continuity of care,” she said such as a long term, secure residential facility for people with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Lochlan is also on a list for supportive housing, but with 800 people ahead of him, he’s been told he needs to call back every six months to keep his spot on the list. Mark Eraut said Lochlan’s addiction is so severe, he can barely keep track of his probation office meetings let alone remember to call B.C. Housing in six months.
Mark and Sheena Eraut, who are separated but work together to get help for their son, are worried Lochlan could be sent back to jail at the end of the month, when he will make a court appearance for charges of break and enter and theft under $5,oo0.
Some ACT clients who come to the attention of police can be diverted to the Victoria Integrated Court, where Crown counsel and judges can recommend drug treatment or individually tailored conditions rather than jail time.
Our Place Society runs the News Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community which has space for up to 24 men who are struggling with addiction, homelessness and who have been involved with the criminal justice system. Currently, there are 20 clients who typically stay between nine and 24 months.
The residential addictions treatment centre has renovated a wing of the former youth detention centre in View Royal which will soon allow space for another 24 men, said Le-Ann Dolan, the centre’s intake and discharge coordinator.
Lochlan has previously gone to drug treatment programs such as the Together We Can addiction treatment centre in Vancouver, but has had little success, his parents said. Mark Eraut said he would love to see his son placed at New Roads, but he has to be willing to go.
“Unless he can be kept somewhere to get off the drugs long enough for the psychiatric work to begin, then there’s nothing to be done for him,” Mark Eraut said. “It’s a continuous spiral downhill.”