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One-stop shopping for mental health

It's the first point of contact for clients to find solutions

Joanne has tried unsuccessfully to beat her addiction issues more than once in the last three years.

I dont have a poison of choice, it isnt one thing, it is the need to escape and check out with a variety of options, she explained candidly.

The last time the 44-year-old mother of two sought treatment was through employee assistance program (EAP) counsellors.

Ive tried quitting more than once and I spoke to two different counsellors and it never worked it was horrible, said the Richmond mom, who wants to remain anonymous. I didnt feel like they really cared and as far as I was concerned, we just didnt connect at all.

Then, a month ago, she came across Vancouver Coastal Healths (VCH) central intake program (CIP).

I went online and found out about the program, Joanne said. I made a call and then within a week I received a call back from Talia, a clinician there. Even though it was extremely emotional I pushed through because I felt Talia wasnt judging me and she seemed to understand me.

(Under VCH security policies, clinicians last names are not given out).

Because Talia asked questions that were specific to Joanne, she matched her with the right counsellor one of CIPs strong advantages.

What also impressed Joanne most was that she wasnt rerouted to different people Talia helped her navigate the myriad of different programs and services available to her. That meant Joanne didnt have to make any phone calls.

The CIP includes services such as psychiatric consultation, Outpatient Mental Health Services, the adult mental health team and Transitions a synchronized disorders program designed to meet the needs of people struggling with more than one addiction and/or mental health challenges.

After my phone call, I was booked in for an orientation and then referred to Transitions, said Joanne. It was great because Transitions is in the same building as my counsellor and other programs that Im considering, such as group therapy.

The CIP, which was introduced last February, is the first point of engagement for both health care professionals and clients seeking help.

CIP simplifies the appointment process, which in turn is supposed to ensure quick and easy access for both physicians and community care providers who refer their patients, and for the clients themselves seeking help.

One of the driving forces behind this program was that it was confusing for community partners, clients and doctors to work with different agencies, said Jo-Anne Kirk, program manager for Richmond Mental Health and Addiction Services. Once we have this initial telephone conversation, we can connect the client to the most appropriate services as quickly as possible.

Our clients have repeatedly told us that this new system gives them a voice. It makes them feel less like a number and more like an individual whos been listened to and cared for.

Under the old system, said Susan Banks a former CIP clinician and now the team leader for the program as well as Transitions accessing mental health and addiction services was a complicated process, with many entry points and different referral requirements.

CIP clinicians book the appointments and the doctors only need to complete one referral form, whereas under the old system, doctors had to fill out different forms for each program it was very tedious, added Banks.

Each clinician is specialized and has different areas of expertise. So, the appropriate clinician can give clients a lot more information and book them into the right programs.

Both Kirk and Banks said the end result is faster intake for clients, no duplication of services and a lot less work for physicians and other health care professionals.

It translates to a reduction of mental health and addiction wait times by nearly 50 per cent in some programs, added Kirk. Consistency of care is crucial and it minimizes the number of people, places and calls that have to be made.

By reducing barriers, its a more effective way to provide services for those in need.

Since its inception last February, VCH estimates the central intake program has helped connect more than 2,500 local residents to the mental health and addiction services they need. On average, the clinicians receive 200 phone calls a month. (All services are covered under VCH, therefore are free to clients).

For more information about the CIP, call 604-244-5488 or visit