Vancouver Island teams pairing cops with mental health nurses off to encouraging start

Click to play video: 'Police and psychiatric nurses join forces on mental health calls'
Police and psychiatric nurses join forces on mental health calls
West Shore RCMP and Island Health are providing an update on how their Mobile Integrated Crisis Response Team is helping people during mental health calls. As Kylie Stanton reports, the need for such teams is growing – Apr 29, 2024

A program pairing RCMP officers with mental health nurses outside of Victoria is fully up and running, and appears to already be delivering results.

The West Shore RCMP’s Mobile Integrated Crisis Response Team (MICR) is similar to the Car 87/88 in Vancouver and the Car 67 program in Surrey.

Under the program, an RCMP officer is paired with an Island Health psychiatric nurse in an unmarked police vehicle. The teams, which operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week, respond to any calls with a mental health component.

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B.C government expands program for mental health calls, but nurses union worries about staffing

“The benefit with this team is that again we provide a different collaboration of care, we provide a non-judgmental approach to people in mental health crisis,” explained nurse Shea Mackenzie.

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“We allow people to have a voice and tell their story and feel heard and validated.”

The program was approved last July and partially rolled out in February. As of April, it is fully staffed with one corporal, two constables and two nurses.

In the short time it has been operating, West Shore RCMP says it is already having an effect.

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“We have had a huge variety of different types of calls, anything from your obvious if someone is in crisis having suicidal thoughts, anything like that, paranoid people, youth calls, senior calls,” said Cpl. Lauren Ferguson, who heads the teams.

“What we are really shocked about is the amount of mental health-related calls.”

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The teams have responded to 270 calls so far, with 39 of those calls (14 per cent) resulting in someone being apprehended involuntarily under the Mental Health Act.

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That’s down from 19 per cent of calls with a mental health component that West Shore RCMP officers responded to throughout 2023.

“For me it is very, very gratifying knowing that our team is in the West Shore, being able to help people that are in crisis,” said Cpl. Benje Bartley.

“We are able to assess people right in their homes and get them resources, hopefully to maybe lower the numbers of apprehensions where we take people to hospital.

The province announced $3 million last summer to bring similar teams to nine communities across B.C.

Expanding so-called “car” teams was among a number of mental health recommendations included in a review of B.C.’s Police Act by an all-party legislative committee in April 2022.

West Shore RCMP, which polices Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin, the District of Highlands and the Songees and Esquimalt First Nations, received $350,000 to get its program running.

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New Victoria program to provide mental health support

Psychiatric nurse Daniel Nguyen said he has wanted the opportunity to be on this type of team since he lived in Vancouver.

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He said being able to approach a crisis situation from both a policing and a mental health perspective keeps things safe while making room for de-escalation and providing people with resources.

“So our assessments may be very different but with the same goal of helping someone get through their immediate crisis,” he said.

“When we bring those two together we make critical decisions on the spot that enable someone to have the best possible outcomes.”

For now, police working on the teams still wear the standard RCMP uniform, but the detachment has applied to Ottawa to allow them to wear plain clothes.

The teams also still lack overnight coverage, something Mackenzie said she’d like to see soon.

“Twenty-four-hour access to this approach to care would be vital,” she said.

“It in itself will decrease some stress on the health-care system I believe, just because we are able to assess in the community and not take people to hospital.”

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