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New mental health unit under construction at Lions Gate Hospital's ER

LGH's new emergency mental health unit will provide fast assessment and stabilization.
Lions Gate Hospital
A new mental health unit is under construction in the emergency department of North Vancouver's Lions Gate Hospital. | Mike Wakefield/North Shore News

A new emergency mental health unit capable of providing quicker assessments and specialized care to patients experiencing mental health crises is under construction now at Lions Gate Hospital's emergency department.

When completed this fall, the specialized emergency psychiatric assessment unit will be able to triage and stabilize patients who are dealing with mental health or substance use emergencies.

The unit will include four beds in private rooms and a lounge area with space for four more patients.

The new unit, being built at a cost of over $3 million, will put the care for mental health emergencies at Lions Gate on a par with other hospitals in the Lower Mainland, said Ira Roness, director of North Shore & Sea to Sky Mental Health & Addiction Services for Vancouver Coastal Health.

“When you look at a good number of hospitals in the area, they usually have a specific mental health and substance use unit,” said Roness. Up until now, however, Lions Gate hasn’t had that.

The new unit will be staffed by two psychiatrists dedicated to the unit as well as specially trained nurses who will be able to provide around-the-clock care, said Roness.

“Historically, we didn’t have mental health nurses 24 hours a day,” he said.

The unit is designed to provide rapid assessment and stabilization, which in some cases may limit the need to admit patients to hospital. Instead, some patients will likely be connected to more supports in the community.

Another part of the work underway at Lions Gate involves reconfiguring the emergency department to improve sight lines from the nursing station to patient waiting areas in an effort to improve safety.

While the hospital's new emergency department was state of the art when it was opened 13 years ago, there have been substantial changes since then, according to the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation.

The number of patients going through the emergency department 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, compared to 1,800 dealing with similar issues in 2009. About 17 per cent of those patients are under 19, according to the foundation.