Toronto police, hospitals to expand crisis intervention program

Watch above: Why Toronto Police need full community support to make the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team program work to its fullest

TORONTO – Just over nine months since Sammy Yatim was shot to death by police on an empty streetcar, police and hospital staff announced the expansion of Toronto’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) program to cover all areas of the city.

MCITs consist of a police officer paired with a mental health crisis nurse, working as secondary response squads that move in after police ensure a scene is safe.

There were previously five such teams in Toronto covering 12 of 17 police divisions for various shifts during the day; Toronto Police Deputy Chief Mike Federico announced Monday that a team has been added with staff from North York General hospital to cover two additional divisions of the city. Federico and Toronto East General Hospital CEO Rob Devitt said the new team will work with the existing teams to expand services.

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“There are some police divisions that don’t have a hospital in them, so we looked at data, we looked at the service call volume, we looked at the St. Mike’s evaluation, and we came to an approach where we’re expanding the teams at Humber, St Joseph’s and East General to cover the remaining police divisions,” Devitt told Global News. “And that will mean that all of Toronto is now covered.”

MCITs assess the person in crisis and connect the person to appropriate follow-up services—an important job in a city where police are dispatched to 20,000 calls related to a person in an emotional crisis (according to 2011 data).

Federico said an apprehension is made by police about 8,600 of those times, and the mobile crisis intervention teams are able to service “a little less than 2,000.”

“So obviously we want to increase the number of clients the teams can service; the needs they can meet. But it is a limited resource,” he said, emphasizing that all police officers are trained to deal with people experiencing an emotional crisis, and that “no community should feel un-resourced should a [mobile crisis intervention] team not be available.”

Funding for the MCIT program comes from two places: One is the Toronto Police Service for their resources, which spokesperson Mark Pugash said is covered by their existing budget, including the training.

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The other is Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) for the nursing services, said Devitt. He estimated the program expansion cost the Toronto Central LHIN around $300,000 for the nursing costs.

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In theory, he said the program could save money in other areas of the healthcare and justice systems.

“Part of the idea here is if you can get early intervention through one of these teams–maybe the person in distress doesn’t even need a hospital and we can avoid coming into the ER and we can hook them up with the right community service,” said Devitt.

“Prior to MCITs, a lot of these people were being picked up and either brought into the hospital or ending up in the justice system, and this is a better way to make sure that whatever services are brought to help people in distress are the best match for whatever their unique situation is.”

Federico, Devitt, and St. Michael’s Hospital psychiatrist-in-chief Vicky Stergiopoulos made the announcement Monday afternoon, as they released a report by the Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Stergiopoulous said the report “confirmed MCITs are a very important component of a comprehensive crisis response program.”

Improvements to the MCIT program were suggested by one Toronto city councillor following Yatim’s death.

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“I believe this is the very situation where we need a crisis intervention team to step in to de-escalate a situation and to provide the kind of support someone like this needs at that time,” Janet Davis told Global News in July.

Yatim’s family issued a statement saying he did not have any mental health problems, but his death was compared to similar cases that did involve mental illness. The young man was holding a knife when he was shot.

Davis said in July that MCITs should be expanded to cover longer hours, as the current teams work various ten or twelve-hour shifts ranging from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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“I think it’s pretty clear that MCITs need to be working around-the-clock hours as well to be available in the evenings and on the weekends when a situation like this might arise,” Davis said in July.

Federico said Monday that hours of operation are under ongoing review, and teams are made available based on a needs assessment of the local community.

“Obviously people can experience a crisis 24 hours a day, but in trying to deliver what is a high-cost resource, we need to be … pragmatic about its use.”

Devitt added that experts from St. Michael’s CRICH are evaluating program outcomes on an ongoing basis, and that details like hours of operation are determined “based on evidence.”

READ MORE: Toronto police conduct under spotlight in Yatim shooting

With files from Andrew Russell and James Armstrong

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