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New mental health unit opens at Lions Gate Hospital ER

New eight-patient unit to provide specialized emergency care

Patients who show up to Lions Gate Hospital’s emergency department who are dealing with addiction or during a mental health crisis now have a dedicated space to receive medical care.

The hospital’s new psychiatric emergency assessment and treatment unit opened this week, providing four single-bed rooms in a specialized unit of the ER where dedicated mental health doctors and nurses can assess patients and determine next steps. A waiting lounge and private consultation room provides space for four more patients.

Numbers of patients needing such specialized care varies, said Ira Roness, director of North Shore and Sea to Sky Mental Health and Substance Use, but the new ER unit has been built to accommodate average demand.

Rooms in the unit, located in the northwest corner of the emergency department, are necessarily sparse, containing just a stretcher bed, while medical equipment can be easily wheeled in and out when needed. A central nursing station includes clear sight lines to all areas of the unit, as well as monitors to keep an eye on patients in crisis.

The new unit is a quieter and more secure space than the regular emergency department, said Roness.

More than just the physical space, however, the unit comes with dedicated staff including two mental health and substance use nurses and one ER nurse, along with psychiatrists who specialize in addiction issues.

In recent years, there has been a steady increase in both the number of people visiting the ER and those who show up with mental health and addiction issues. The severity of those problems has also grown more acute, said Roness.

“The opening of this unit is really timely,” he added.

The new mental health emergency unit is part of a $5 million revamp of the Lions Gate ER, which also includes a reconfiguring of the emergency department’s triage area and converting one waiting area into a space for patient treatment.

The new mental health ER has largely been made possible by a donation from the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, which not only surpassed its initial goal of raising $3.8 million, but did so in just six months last year during the pandemic.

“We raised close to $5 million,” said Judy Savage, president and chair of the LGH Foundation. “The community was very responsive.”

With some of the extra money raised, the foundation bought new patient monitors for the ER, at a cost of approximately $770,000, said Savage.

Construction on the unit started in the spring and wrapped up just this week.

According to Vancouver Coastal Health and the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, the number of patients going through the emergency department at Lions Gate is up 40 per cent since 2009 – from 40,000 patients annually to 65,000.

Of those, about 3,500 need emergency care for a mental health or substance use issue.

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