Latimer: New psychiatric ward welcomed

You may have heard there is a new wing opening at the Kelowna General Hospital in the next couple of weeks.

You may have seen or heard that there is a new wing opening at the Kelowna General Hospital in the next couple of weeks.

Now that the construction site dust has settled, I took the opportunity to visit the open house last week and was very pleased with what I saw.

We are truly getting a state-of-the-art facility.

Although there are many wards for various areas of health care included in the new six-floor wing, the one I was most interested in was the new unit for mental health and substance abuse services.

It is an amazing facility compared to our existing psychiatric ward—the McNair Unit.

In the new building, most rooms are single occupancy and the furniture and design features are purpose-built with functionality and safety in mind.

The space is well-appointed and patients will have the pleasure of windows with views.

From what I saw, it appears there will be an increase in the number of beds as well as adequate space for expansion in the future.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade is the psychiatric intensive care area. The old unit is very makeshift and not satisfactory for either patients or staff.

While I am encouraged and enthusiastic about this excellent new building with so many upgrades to enhance patient comfort and staff efficiency, I couldn’t help but spend some time pondering the extreme contrast between old and new.

One can’t help but lament the amount of time it has taken for these necessary improvements to be made.

Local psychiatrists have been recommending a replacement for the McNair Unit for 30 years. It should not have taken an entire generation to come to fruition.

Even now, the provision of this new psychiatric facility likely has more to do with the requirement to rearrange buildings to accommodate other services such as cardiac surgery than it has to do with the needs of psychiatric patients.

In my view, this is just one more example of the discrimination that still exists against individuals living with mental illness.

To the decision makers who failed to make this happen sooner—shame on you.

Now that we have the shiny new physical building, it behoves the powers that be to upgrade the services to match the facilities.

Hospital beds need to be better managed so that admissions can actually occur when needed; wait times in the ER need to be drastically reduced and there needs to be better follow-up in the community for patients after they are discharged.

A method for assisting psychiatric patients in crisis without having to go through the ER unless required would go a long way toward decreasing the bottle-neck that can occur.

While the new wing is certainly a welcome and necessary improvement, it will not be the solution to all our problems.

As in any area of health care, it is the people and programs, more than the facilities that truly define great service.

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