Vancouver Coastal Health creates new Assertive Community Treatment teams

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Depression therapist doctor / shutterstock

Vancouver Coastal Health has created two additional Assertive Community Treatment teams with an ultimate goal of reducing emergency room visits by up to 70 per cent.

Assertive Community Treatment teams provide treatment and rehabilitation to clients who have a mental illness or “severe substance use addictions.” The treatment includes providing long-term around-the-clock health care and life skills support, which includes job training, help with finding independent housing, social interaction counselling, and maintaining health and wellness.

Assertive Community Treatment teams include many professionals, such as:

  • Nurses;
  • Social workers;
  • Peer support workers;
  • Physicians;
  • Psychiatrists; and,
  • Occupational therapists

Health Minister Terry Lake says these two new teams will help persons with “severe addiction and mental illness” get the right kind of help.

“After the dust settles, people with severe addiction and mental illness can find help meeting the challenges of ‘day-to-day’ living, with two new Assertive Community Treatment teams,” Lake said.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s three existing Assertive Community Treatment teams have proven to be quite effective by reducing the number of persons who need treatment by 70 per cent.

“[The teams have] proven themselves to be a unique and important approach for treating this specific client group,” Lake said.

“These teams illustrate that with the right mix of support and programming, it’s possible for even the most complex clients to attain a better quality of life,” he elaborated.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s Director of Mental Health and Addictions, Andrew MacFarlane, says the program “has been vital to helping clients reintegrate into society in a meaningful way.”

The first-ever Assertive Community Treatment team was founded in January 2012 in the downtown eastside as a collaboration with both the Vancouver Police Department and B.C. Housing. In its first year alone, the team was able to reduce emergency room visits by 70 per cent; criminal justice involvement dropped by 61 per cent; and “incidents of victimization” decreased by 23 per cent.

The three existing Assertive Community Treatment teams support 215 clients. After the two new teams, which will cost $3.6-million each year, are created, the five teams will be able to help a total of 420 persons.

However, “in the beginning stages of recruitment,” the two new Assertive Community Treatment teams will each help approximately 20 clients. But after this initial stage, the new teams will be able to each help between 80 to 90 persons (for a total of 160-180 persons). The services will be tailored to each individual’s needs.

These two additions are just one strategy that the province is introducing in response to B.C.’s mental health action plan and report, Improving Health Services for Individuals with Severe Addiction and Mental Illness.

The Ministry of Health created the mental health action plan and report in November 2013. The action plan aims to reduce barriers and service gaps, and to support “evidence-based solutions” for patients with “severe substance use addictions” and mental illness.

To support this action plan and report, the Ministry of Health is investing $20-million for regional health authorities to invest in local programs and support programs to improve care for society’s “high-needs population.”

In addition to honouring the action plan, this announcement also honours the annual nation-wide Mental Health Week, which runs this week from May 5 through 11. Mental Health Week encourages everyone “to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health.”

Feature image credit: Depression via Shutterstock

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