Police idea to treat mentally ill at Remand Centre now ‘off the table’

EDMONTON – The idea that the Remand Centre could be used as a place for police to take people with mental health problems for treatment instead of a local hospital has been squashed.

Edmonton police were forced to do a bit of backtracking Thursday, after word of the idea – one of many suggested to council – received some criticism.

The idea came out of a question to police by city council during ongoing budget talks. One councillor asked what steps EPS was taking to recognize people with mental health issues, mitigate those situations, and get them appropriate treatment.

“We need to do a better job of dealing with individuals, what we call with Form 10 apprehensions, or people with mental health issues,” said David Veitch with the Edmonton Police Service.

This one idea was part of a long list of answers. It proposed having police take patients to the Remand Centre to use its medical facilities instead of a hospital, which typically have huge waits and tie up police resources.

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READ MORE: Mental health calls, ER waits tying up Edmonton police, says chief 

“We explored the new Remand Centre, which has medical facilities there, has doctors, has nurses and we looked at that as just a thought, just spit-balling ideas of what could work,” explained Veitch.

“They weren’t going to go in general population. It was to access the medical facility.”

However, for mental health advocates, that option is simply not acceptable.

“We don’t suggest that people take broken ankles into the police station and get sent to Remand for recovery. Why should we suggest people with broken brains do the same?” asked mental health advocate Austin Mardon.

He said certain calls should not be rushed and that officers should follow the law, regardless of the amount of time it takes.

Plus, he said, the Remand carries a negative connotation.

“Hospitals are places of healing. Jails – and it is a jail – is a place of punishment.”

READ MORE: One-third of Canadians at ‘high risk’ for mental health concerns: poll 

Veitch addressed the proposal on Thursday, stressing it’s not one they’re actually considering.

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“We just wanted to clear up a bit of confusion that was out in the community.”

He said when police respond to a Form 10 call – one involving a person with a mental illness – they must take them to one of five hospitals in the area: four hospitals in Edmonton or the Alberta Hospital. They were exploring other options.

But the idea was not well received.

“No… it’s pretty much not something we’re considering any more,” said Veitch.

“It’s off the table. It was quickly dismissed at the very beginning.”

Veitch explained the reason the suggestion was included at all was to show the lengths police are having to go in order to cut down on time spent in hospitals waiting with patients until they see a doctor. He said those waits are often two, three, four hours long.

EPS has been looking at options and possible strategies for about 11 months now, Veitch said. Another idea was considering diversions: moving away from taking Form 10 individuals to hospitals and instead using community supports.

“I think we’re having some good success. Our wait time is beginning to trend down and we’re beginning to see some better outcomes for our clients as well,” said Veitch.

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