Mental Health Continuum of Care Social Worker, St. Paul's Hospital, Providence Health Care
Katherine MacPhee is standing in a bright, spacious bedroom in downtown Vancouver. Against the wall is a neatly made bed with white linens and fluffy pillows.
Next to it is a small writing desk with a table lamp and a white chair tucked underneath. Muffled sounds of traffic and sidewalk chatter float in through the broad windows, but otherwise the space is serene and quiet. MacPhee is not on vacation. She’s a social worker with Providence Health Care, specializing in mental health housing. She’s standing in one of six rooms secured by Providence Health Care to provide a place for mental health patients to stay after they’ve been discharged from St. Paul’s Hospital. The building is known as the Metson Rooms, but to the residents who stay there, they’re much more than mere rooms. They’re temporary homes—safe, comfortable places to live while they work on their recovery, and a much better alternative to sleeping on the street.
Supporting mental health patients while helping hospitals
Studies on best practices for discharging mental health patients emphasize the importance of effective planning and robust support systems for reducing homelessness and encouraging long-term integration with the community. The rooms secured by Providence Health Care at the Metson Rooms provide recently released patients with access to the support and stability they need to facilitate recovery.
“A lot of our patients have issues with inadequate housing or homelessness, in addition to psychiatric and addiction issues,” says MacPhee. “Obviously it is really difficult to stabilize with your mental health treatment if you don’t have a place to live.”
A secondary benefit is that the rooms are helping to free up space in already over-burdened hospitals, which are typically optimized to treat acute care issues, rather than mental health diseases. Providing a transition place at the Metson Rooms for patients to stay helps prevent them from returning to the hospital soon after being discharged, and enables the hospital to treat more acute care patients who have nowhere else to go.
“Often mental health patients are ready to leave the hospital, but the housing or addiction treatment space they are headed to isn't yet available,” MacPhee explains. “They need a stable location where they can wait for their next step and continue the recovery work they’ve started in the hospital.”
Providing the support mental health patients need
MacPhee notes that many important post-discharge activities, such as going to medical appointments, receiving income assistance and accessing general support, are not easy when patients are living in unstable situations.
“If you don't have stable housing, it's really difficult to take your medications,” she says. Adding that while shelters provide a roof overhead and a bed, many lack other resources that would help support re-integration and mental health stabilization.
“In many shelters you can only stay during the night, and you have to be out in the day,” MacPhee says. “And you don't have access to a phone. Those kinds of things make it really difficult to work on your recovery.”
Providence Health offers resources to tenants during the day at the Metson Rooms. Residents can access a support worker to ask questions or get other assistance. While modestly furnished, the rooms provide the essentials people need to continue their recovery. A shared kitchen has plates, pots, cutlery and, more importantly, a place to make healthy meals and interact with others in a secure place. Three times a week dinners are provided, providing an occasion to come together to socialize and share.
In addition to addressing homelessness and hospital resources, the efforts of Providence to provide secure living spaces at the Metson Rooms contributes to removing the stigma of mental health in society.
“It's really important to change the labels around mental illness, as well as addiction and other issues like poverty and homelessness,” MacPhee says. “It’s helping remove any barriers that patients experience in accessing the help they need to lead fully functioning lives—and that’s our ultimate goal.”