There were a number of options at local hospitals and other facilities: pediatrics, surgery, palliative care, and more. Nothing felt right—until something came up at a local remand centre.
When Aarbo raised his hand for the opportunity, some of his classmates looked at him dubiously: why not choose something easier—more palatable?
He wasn’t deterred. For him, the placement would mark the beginning of a lifelong passion for helping the patients much of society prefers to forget: people in the criminal justice system.
Aarbo, though new to his role at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, has been working at PHSA’s BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services for most of the last decade. He spent several years as a clinical services manager for the hospital’s high-security units. Last year, he moved over to Correctional Health Services to serve as a regional director.
A few weeks ago, he returned to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital to serve as the new senior director of patient care services. He’s responsible for ensuring patients at the hospital receive quality, evidence-based clinical care.
“I felt it was a good opportunity to bridge portfolios,” said Aarbo about why the move from Correctional Health Services was appealing.
Patients in both programs have come into conflict with the law, but at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, whose patients are some of the most complex and seriously mentally ill in the province, the goal isn’t punishment—it’s treatment and rehabilitation.
This comes with a unique set of challenges, which, for Aarbo, is part of the appeal. He and his colleagues on the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital’s new leadership team are the process of rolling out a number of changes to improve care, safety and more.
“I wanted to raise the bar and really support staff, and improve safety and security,” he said. “I’ve really come at a good time, and I’m looking forward to being part of positive change.”
For Aarbo, understanding is foundational to the work he and his staff do: understanding of why patients are the way they are—and of the fact that almost anyone could end up in similar circumstances.
“Having worked as a front-line nurse for years, I’ve heard so many stories about difficulties, substance use, mental illness, and trauma—especially trauma. It changes people,” said Aarbo.
“This is a population that is easily stigmatized, but a lot of these people are not dissimilar to us. They got caught up in their circumstances, and they ended up here.”
Aarbo ultimately wants to bring them both healing and hope.
”It’s a passion of mine to try to get high-needs patients like the ones we care for at Forensics stabilized and improved with exceptional, evidence-based health care. I’ve seen the difference the right care can make both among my patients, and among loved ones. My calling and my lifelong journey is supporting these people and giving them hope for the future.”