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St. Joe’s moves health care from the shadows into the light

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Nearly 140 years ago people with mental health issues were shuffled away into a shadowy world of Victorian buildings, hidden away never to be seen again.

The grand opening of the new $581 million Margaret and Charles Juravinski Centre for Integrated Healthcare at the corner of West 5th and Fennell Avenue will now shed new light on the treatment of mental health issues in the community and beyond.

“This is not just another building,” said Dr. David Higgins, president of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton during the Jan. 23 grand opening of the new facility on the mountain. “This is the physical representation of something else. We will be able to aid in the recovery and healing.”

Ontario’s Health Minister Deb Matthews revealed to the large crowd of local politicians, health care officials, and support staff in the facility’s bright new atrium that a relative spent her remaining years in the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane, built in 1876 on the Mountain Brow on 529 acres.

The large building was located far away from the Hamilton community at the time, along a dirt road, with its own bakery, farm, and butcher shop.

“She spent the rest of her life in the building,” said Matthews, never to reconnect with her family, friends, or the community.

The new mental health care facility will transform the way health care officials treat and respond to people with mental health issues, she said. The building is bathed in light, glass is everywhere so you can see through walls, the colours are vibrant and alive, and a person is treated both physically and mentally, said health care officials.

“This is a completely new way to deliver health care,” said Matthews.

The 855,000-square-foot West 5th facility, with its glass walls allows light to permeate through the entire building. Even at the design phase, developers asked patients to tell them what was need, and essentially how to construct a facility they would feel comfortable in.

In response, the facility will accommodate up to 305 in-patients, compared to the 214 beds at the former hospital, and all but three of the rooms are for single patients with an ensuit washroom featuring hands-free, no-tap sinks that are run by motion sensors.

There is a 5,860-square-foot gym on the second floor, an activity room, used clothing store, salon and a coffee shop.

The venue also has state-of-the-art technology including community diagnostic services such as MRI, breast imaging, x-ray and ultrasound.

There are five meeting rooms and a 300-seat auditorium for lectures and conferences. They will help to provide physicians the room to study mental health, said Kevin Smith, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph’s Health System.

And since part of the recovery process for patients is to provide an inclusive environment, there are 16 landscaped courtyards around the hospital and a pedestrian plaza at West 5th and Fennell.

The integrated care health care system will “break down barriers,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne, during the ceremony. “It will change the lives of countless people.”

One of those people whoSt. Joseph’s has already helped is Candice Brimner. Once an alcohol and drug addict, the Hamiltonian from a stable two-parent family, who excelled in school and from all appearances “things appeared great” was instead a troubled individual.

“Something was missing,” she said.

In front of the crowd of dignitaries, an emotional Brimner told them her story. She got high once, and that led her into doing more serious drugs, living with people who existed in an environment where violence, assaults and rapes were common. Her addiction took her to a point where she started seeing things, was constantly paranoid, and was contemplating suicide.

But one health care official at St. Joseph’s started talking to her, and that life-changing event began her rehabilitation.

“I was treated with dignity and respect,” said Brimner. “Now I am a productive and contributing member of society.”

She graduated from college, and is now an addiction counselor, able to change other people’s lives.

“I have the opportunity to plant that seed of hope into people,” said Brimner, as the people gave her a standing ovation, some with tears in their eyes.”

It’s this more people-centred care that Smith said is the future for mental health assistance.

“We are re-examining what the care really means,” he said. “We need to eliminate all the unnatural barriers between mental health care and the other health services.”

Also attending the opening was Margaret and Charles Juravinski who contributed $10 million to the hospital’s fundraising campaign in 2011. Over the years the couple has donated over $50 million to Hamilton-area hospitals to improving health care throughout the area.

 

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