Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Strike at Essondale


Essondale was at the forefront of the government employees' movement in BC. Ever since 1919, when the first meeting of the Provincial Civil Service Association was held. In 1944, the BC Government Employees' Association was formed and Essondale 575 members. That was more than any other branch in the province including the government employees in Victoria!

Premier W.A.C. Bennett's government had an uneasy relationship with the Government Employees' Association. On March 13, 1959, members of the Association went out on strike. Including the staff at Essondale. It was a short strike, four hours long.

The issue was bargaining rights. The pickets went up at government buildings at 7 am. By 10:30 am, the B.C. Supreme Court had issued an injunction calling for an end to the strike and the picket lines went down.

However short it was, the strike had an effect on Essondale.

 Some of the psychologists asked to be allowed through the picket line (at Essondale). The nurses said: No dice. The patients will bear up quite well without them. The patients enjoyed themselves. The monotony was broken for one day.” 

Roy LaVigne, quoted in A Union Amongst Government Employees: A History of the B.C. Government Employees’ Union, 1919-1979 by Bruce McLean.

In 1969, the BC Government Employees' Association became the BC Government Employees' Union. Riverview - as Essondale was now known - employees are still members of the public sector unions represented by the BC Government Employees Union (BCGEU), the BC Nurses Union (BCNU), the Professional Employees Association (PEA) and the Union of Psychiatric Nurses of BC (UPN).

Remember I mentioned the newsletter at Essondale, The Leader? By 1960, it was no longer a little newsletter. It was a 28-page, twice monthly publication - almost a small town newspaper. The paper had an advisory board, editorial board, ward reporters, artists, typists and even a feature writer. 

In a typical issue, a reader would find a calendar of events, church services, reports from the wards, a movie schedule. They would also find jokes, news from Colony Farms, gardening tips, horoscopes, make-up tips and book reviews. Groups such as the English Club, Journalism Club, Drama Club and Reducing Club - which offered exercises and marching - published their news in The Leader.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, A Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

Monday, September 28, 2015

Released to the Streets

With the introduction of oral medications, psychiatric care began to change. More patients could be seen on a out-patient basis. There was also concern about 'warehousing' those with a mental illness and the growing expense of psychiatric institutions. These factors were leading to one outcome - the abolishment of mental institutions.

In 1957, a mental health centre opened in Burnaby. This one provided out-patient psychiatric care and focused on treating emotionally disturbed adults in the early stages of mental illness. By starting treatment early enough it often meant the patient wouldn't have to be admitted to a mental hospital. The clinic also offered after care for patients who had been previously treated.

There was also the Broadway Clinic in Vancouver and both of these clinics were given support and expertise from Essondale. In the 1960's other clinics opened in Kelowna and Victoria. By the mid-1970's, there were 30 community mental health centres across B.C.

“When the medications came, people didn’t need to stay here anymore. They still have the symptoms of the illness (just like people with high blood pressure or diabetes), but if they take their medication properly, they can go back and live in the community. We have learned that mental illness is not untreatable. It is not completely treatable but for many people, if symptoms are managed, they can go back to their normal life.”

Dr. Soma Ganesan Physician Leader, Riverview Hospital, 2003-?

Moving from an institution to the outside world can be a big adjustment especially if the patient was institutionalized for a long period of time. The idea of independent living was embraced by many but it took some time to get the appropriate community resources in place.

“There was disappointment that community services weren’t adequate. It seemed as though the plan got lost; people moved out first and then they developed the services, which isn’t the way you should do it. It’s hard to provide mental health services for people in the community; it’s not that people don’t want to but it’s hard to maintain people so that they’re safe and they have some kind of meaningful life.”

Alice McSweeney Staff psychologist intermittently from 1948-1974

1959 saw the opening of the Valleyview 300 building. This 328-bed hospital was for the geriatric mentally ill. The halls were equipped with handrails and floor level lighting; everything was designed for the older patient. British Columbia was the first province to set up a separate institution for the treatment of the aged with mental problems. Over the next decades, the treatment at the Valleyview 300 building would establish a speciality in geriatric psychiatry that continues to this day.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview a Legacy of Care and Compassion for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

Friday, September 25, 2015

Nurses at Essondale

August 19, 1930, taken by Dominion Photo Co. The kitchen block under construction.

Dominion Photo Co. took this photo of an unidentified group at Essondale Hospital in 1931.

Stride Studio is responsible for this February 13, 1929 photo taken at Essondale.

January 20, 1930 photo of the Farm Cottage taken by Stride Studios.
This collection photos from the City of Vancouver Archives

The training of nurses at Essondale hit its peak in the 1950s. In 1953, the Nursing School had its largest graduating class of 200 nurses. The training was rigorous, combining experience on the wards with classroom studies. Female students stayed in the residences, under the watchful eye of House Mothers. The male students were on an honour system and allowed more freedom. They were also paid more than female students were.

The Nursing Program in the 1950s was a three-year course with 300 lecture hours that included teachings ranging from first aid and fire precautions to pharmacology and psychology. The students gained practical experience by rotations in the wards at Essondale and Woodlands schools.

In 1957, the Nurses' Home and School of Psychiatric Nursing Building was completed. Female students now had single rooms, for the first time. Male students were housed at West Lawn on the top floor.

If male students wanted to visit the female students, they would wait at the front door of the Nurses' home when they came calling. Sometimes, the men would be invited to a sock dance in the reception area. Some of the better experienced dancers managed to stay upright while dancing in their socks on the slippery, hardwood floors.

The staff at Essondale also experimented with different therapies for their patients since they didn't always have the guidance of established methods. Some of those experiments had dramatic results - like the lead up to a Music Therapy program.

“One day I was invited to the ward at West Lawn where there were a number of patients in a catatonic state—they were frozen in one position. They would eat three times a day, but they were terribly inactive. They weren’t walking in the airing courts; their cardiovascular condition was terrible. I was asked if I could get these men moving. I thought of the Pennington Hall dances and how patients would react to music. They would tap their toes, move their hands or even get up and dance. So I brought a turntable into this ward and put on marching music. A complete metamorphosis took place before my eyes. The patients started moving and jogging around the room. I thought all this activity was going to put a few of them into cardiac arrest! As soon as the music stopped, they froze again. But we could see it had an impact. This experiment led to a music therapist being hired.” 

Don Cunnings Recreation Therapist, 1953-57

There were also sports days held at Essondale. The annual event was an important day. Patients, staff and family members would participate in the usual such as the three-legged race, the sack race and the softball toss. There were also unique events such as the doctor’s bandaging race. The patients and doctors would usually compete in a softball game, bands would play, a picnic would be held on the lawn. A big outdoor dance would complete the day.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, A Legacy of Care and Compassion for the information above.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill