A Red Deer pilot project to help deal with mental health-related crisis calls is expanding, despite a lack of provincial funding.
In 2011, the Red Deer Primary Care Network, in partnership with the RCMP, started a program called the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which responds only to mental health calls.
The program followed successful pilot programs of a similar nature in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.
The original hope was to have Alberta Health Services take over funding the program after it was a proven success. That funding hasn’t materialized, so the program will be funded by the care network and the RCMP for the foreseeable future.
“A lot of time the root causes of crime have nothing to do with the types of activities police can do to prevent it,” said Red Deer RCMP Supt. Warren Dosko. “Mental health is a good example — putting more officers on the street, having them do more patrols, having them undertake more police activities is going to have almost zero impact addressing the mental health issues in our community.”
A 1999 Alberta study found that 34 per cent of male inmates in provincial jails suffer from a form of mental disorder.
Dosko said the crisis team is designed to help in a reactive way, but can be more proactive in identifying individuals with mental issues and getting them appropriate care.
Dr. Peter Bouch, chair of the Red Deer Primary Care Network, said the program, which started as a pilot project, has been successful so far redirecting about 200 people away from the emergency room.
“We did a cost analysis and for every dollar that we spent on the team, it was $4 saved by the system either in the emergency room or remand centre,” said Bouch. When someone gets arrested and has to go to the emergency room, a police officer must stay with them. The presence of the team allows frees up an officer for other calls.
“Also, an emergency room isn’t often the greatest place to be if you’re in a mental health crisis and we can get these people the right help at the right time,” said Bouch.
The Primary Care Network supplies a mental health nurse or practitioner who goes with an RCMP officer to calls. The team response to calls involving people with mental health issues allows for assessment of the person and, when appropriate, diverts them from the hospital emergency department to other community venues or agencies, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Central Aberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, Central Alberta Family Services or Parkland Youth Homes.
“This is the most compassionate way of helping out these people in crisis,” said Bouch.
It has been successful enough that they have added a second team, which will be up within the next month. Bouch said it would take at least three to four teams to make the service 24 hours a day.
“The main thing is to try to get these people the help they need, the right help by diverting them to resources in the city by deviating them away from the emergency room or the remand centre,” said Bouch.
Bouch said a lot of the time the cares the team responds to start from a family member or friend calling in about someone who is very depressed, considering suicide or in a mental health crisis. In the event of a suicide attempt, they are sent to the hospital for admission and are not handled by the team. But for those on the edge, the team will respond.
“Unfortunately a lot of these people tend to fall through the cracks of society and often they have a previous history with the RCMP and with mental health,” said Bouch.
“Now that the team has been around from just over a year, some people are phoning and asking for the PACT to come rather than the RCMP.”