Mental health professionals are teaming up with Saskatchewan police services to help the overcrowding of provincial emergency rooms officials announced during a Saskatoon media conference Friday.
$468,800 from the 2023-2024 Provincial Budget will go to Saskatoon and Regina Police Services to expand the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) program in the communities.
PACT is aimed at changing the way mental health emergencies are handled. Mental health professionals are paired with officers to stabilize people experiencing a crisis.
“By expanding this program, the government is helping to ensure that individuals in a mental health crisis are diverted away from emergency rooms and the criminal justice system so they can access the supports that they truly need,” said MLA for Martensville-Warman, Terry Jensen.
“$114,400 will be used to fund one new police position in each community (Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Estevan, Yorkton, and North Battleford) and $240,000 total will go towards hiring two mental health professionals for those teams,” Terry Jensen.
In 2023, the Saskatoon Police Service will field four teams, up one from the three available in 2021.
“With the addition of the fourth team, we will be able to provide service seven days a week,” said Superintendent Dave Haye with the Saskatoon Police Service.
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“Mental health related calls to the Saskatoon Police Service have increased by 165 per cent since 2014. In real numbers, that is 991 to 2614.”
In Saskatoon, PACT was able to divert people from hospital emergency rooms on 441 occasions and for being arrested on 68 occasions.
When a call for service comes to the Saskatoon Police Service’s communication centre, they decide if a mental health care should be sent to the scene.
“There is a discussion,” Haye said, describing PACTS role at a call scene. “Sometimes there is some de-escalation that needs to be involved, the mental health care worker is essentially the lead in that investigation.
“It’s the mental health care worker we rely on. In modern policing, that is the direction we are going.”
PACT workers help establish a ‘safety plan’ with the subject which could involve going to the hospital or calling in family resources.
“One of our goals is to reduce the number of people we hold in custody,” Haye added. “It’s a facet of modern policing and it’s what the public is asking us to do.”
$2.833 million will be invested in the PACT program for 12 police positions across the province and to expand the PACT mental health professional component.
The Saskatoon Police Service saw an increase of dispatched calls by 30 per cent in 2022.
Saskatoon PACT services are available from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Haye said if they need to extend hours after analysis of the program they will, but they currently aren’t experiencing calls for the service in the early hours of the morning.
“There is no sense having a resource in place when we aren’t receiving any calls,” Haye noted.
Money in the 2023-2024 budget will fund 12 police positions including one new position for both Saskatoon and Regina. Four additional PACT social worked will also be funded.