New Child and Adolescent Mental Health Centre Edges Closer to Construction as Royal Alex Redevelopment Plan Moves Ahead

Mark Snaterse, Christine Mummery and Dr. Alice Leung have long shared the same inspiring dream.

01 June 2018

Mark Snaterse, Christine Mummery and Dr. Alice Leung have long shared the same inspiring dream.

Namely: that a first-class, purpose-built and well-staffed Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) centre will come to life as part of Phase One of the Royal Alexandra Hospital's ambitious 16-year, $4.5 billion master redevelopment plan.

Snaterse, Alberta Health Services' Executive Director for Addiction and Mental Health, Edmonton Zone, says getting the CAMH project up and running has been one of his top priorities since he assumed his current post nine years ago.

With the functional programming plan now complete, consultations with various stakeholders and detailed design work is slated to begin over the next few months. By 2019, construction of the new CAMH centre should be underway.

"This building is going to be quite transformational. When you are able to design a building specifically to provide the services needed by kids and their families, you're talking about an entirely different therapeutic environment," says Snaterse.

"It can include therapeutic recreation spaces, a gym, a pool, outdoor spaces like courtyards and green space, and a family resource centre, all based on the principle of offering integrated family care. When you talk about family inclusion our current spaces and environments don't really enable us to engage families as well as we should."

Mummery, Alberta Health Services' Edmonton Zone Director - Children, Youth and Families, Addiction and Mental Health Services, also recognized long ago the need for improved and expanded local mental health and addiction facilities, specifically tailored for young patients.

"We've been advocating for the CAMH project for the past eight years. The facilities our inpatients are currently in at the Royal Alex, the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, the Yellowhead Youth Centre and Alberta Hospital Edmonton are simply not very therapeutic or up to standard," she says.

"The new CAMH building is going to be so much better. That's why we're so excited about it."

Leung, a child psychiatrist who grew up in the nearby Norwood neighbourhood and is now AHS Clinical Section Chief of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Addictions, Edmonton Zone, echoes those views.

Now all three believe the CAMH project - which is part of a massive scheme to modernize and expand Edmonton's busy inner city hospital - will finally usher in a new era of advanced, leading-edge care for some of the region's most vulnerable young residents.

Publicly unveiled for the first time in 2015, the Royal Alexandra Hospital redevelopment scheme entails major renovations or the complete demolition of nine of the 20 buildings now located at the Royal Alex site, as well as the nearby Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and Capital Care Norwood sites.

As currently conceived, the CAMH facility would be among the first elements of the complex plan to proceed. It would consolidate all regional tertiary and specialized mental health and addiction services for children, youth and families for Alberta Health Services' Central, Edmonton and Northern Zones, as well as northern B.C., northern Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories.

The 25,000-square-metre (269,000-square-foot) CAMH facility would be tailor-made and deliberately designed to reflect the specific needs of young patients coping with mental health and addictions issues.

"This building will be unique. I don't think there is any other facility in Canada where they have youth forensics and addictions and mental health all housed in the same building. So this is an exciting opportunity for us here in Edmonton to show some vision and some leadership not just in Alberta, but nationwide," says Leung.

The CAMH facility will include 101 inpatient beds; multiple customized inpatient and outpatient programs and clinics; 19 classrooms for the education of children and youth while they're in treatment; a therapeutic recreation complex including a swimming pool and gymnasiums; fresh air / outdoor space; 85 underground parking stalls; and mental health therapy seven days a week, 365 days a year for those in need.

What's more, with multiple therapeutic programs and services under one roof, Snaterse says the new CAMH centre will simultaneously yield major operating efficiencies and significantly boost system capacity.

"By incorporating various programs in one place, for instance, kids will be able to move from a forensic bed into a youth mental health bed if their charges are dropped and they still require ongoing care," he says.

"Right now, our existing programs do some wonderful things, but they each operate in isolation. So there will be natural efficiencies and we'll be able to deliver far better care when we start leveraging the skills and the expertise of each program, all in one centralized location."

Another key advantage of the new CAMH centre is a sizeable boost in overall capacity.

"If one examines today's activity levels and projections of future demand for services, we expect to be able to provide 65 per cent more bed days at CAMH," says Snaterse. "That's a combination of actually having more beds as well as having those beds operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Today, many of our beds are closed on weekends or once the school year ends."

Further, the new facility will incorporate innovative technologies and best practices that are not only therapeutic and family friendly but also academically focused, says Leung, who also serves as Division Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alberta.

"It will be a great clinical environment but it will be academic as well. So it's going to be a fantastic place for teaching, for learning, for residents, for students and interns, and a great place to really ramp up the kind of clinical research that we do."

Outpatient services are also expected to benefit in a big way.

"Based on our analysis, we're expecting a 400 per cent increase in more intensive day treatment spaces at the new CAMH centre, and that's fantastic," says Mummery. "These are kids who come in for intensive hospital-based and school-based treatment during the day, and then go home at night."

The Government of Alberta committed $200 million in its March 2017 budget toward the cost of the new CAMH facility. Plans are well underway to launch a related public capital campaign.

"We're currently working with our local Alberta Health Services foundations on a strategy to raise additional funds by bringing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to the donor community across Northern Alberta," says Snaterse.

"The specialized tertiary programs at CAMH will serve not only the Edmonton Zone but all of Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, so our catchment area is huge."