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Early successes for OPP mental health pilot project


February 24, 2021
By Canadian Press

Feb. 24, 2021 – Nearly six months into the OPP Mobile Crisis Response Team pilot project, diversion rates for mental health calls have seen a noticeable increase.

SDG OPP acting detachment commander Simon Hardy and constable Jim Blanchette presented an update to the mental health pilot at the February 16th SDG Counties council meeting.

“We’ve had tremendous success,” Blanchette told council. “It has exceeded my expectations even.”

Council approved the $120,000 one-year pilot project in the 2020 budget. Due to the pandemic, hiring of a full-time mental health registered nurse for the team was not completed until September.

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The pilot has three goals, improving access to mental health care, improving quality of care, and resident experience improvements.

Blanchette told council that the addition of the RN has helped with crisis response, deescalation, communication, and with completing assessments in the home at the time of a service call.

“The quality of care is less intrusive, our clients are much more comfortable in their own home,” he said adding that pairing the RN with an OPP officer builds re-pore with those needing services which helps in future calls.

“Clients are telling us over-and-over again glad they are getting the help they need,” Blanchette said. “Family members are saying how happy they are with our initiative.”

The numbers back up the improvements made with the pilot.

Hospital wait time hours, which is the time spent by officers with a person while awaiting help for a mental health issue have dropped from 2.34 hours between September 2019 and January 2020, to 1.5 hours between September 2020 and January 2021.

Blanchette said that in the last month that number has dropped to 30 minutes.

He said that across the province 40-45 per cent of mental health calls result in apprehension. Prior to the hiring of the mental health RN, the best the SDG OPP had done is 25 per cent.

“Currently we are running at 11 per cent of mental health calls resulting in apprehension,” Blanchette told council. “We’re not only making less apprehensions, we’re less intrusive, we’re not penalizing people who are suffering a mental health issue.”

He added that when an apprehension does occur, to protect the safety of the person or others, the RN is already working to connect that person with services. That connection saves time and provides a quicker outcome and access to services for the person in distress.

COVID-19 has caused an increase in mental health calls from the previous year. But the outcomes from those cases are considerably different. Voluntary escort to the hospital is down nearly 20 per cent from last year. Involuntary apprehension is down nearly 60 per cent, while diversion and referrals are up by nearly 60 per cent according to data presented.

“I think there has been a huge paradigm shift in how officers look at mental illness and mental health, both their own and the community members we serve,” Hardy told council. “We can always try to improve but I think 1/8the program 3/8 has been nothing but positive.”

Hardy described that police responses to mental health calls are becoming more proactive rather than reactive.

“We’re not just jumping in a car, going lights and sirens to a call. We’re implementing strategies that will prevent us from having to go lights and sirens to a call.

Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) said that the program fits with the County’s objectives of being innovative.

“This is a program that should be hugely celebrated,” she said. “This is innovative, boots-on-the-ground, where our residents feel the impact.

Councillor Allan Armstrong (North Dundas) said that when the pilot project was first brought up at budget last year, he was not against the project but he was uncertain if it was the right way to proceed.

“I have to give kudos to Councillor Gardner. It was her passion and knowledgeable speech that changed my mind to see that it was worthwhile,” he said. “I am glad to see that the stats have borne that out.” Armstrong said he supported the program continuing.

“I don’t think it’s onerous and it’s a great service to the people of SDG.”

Council supported carrying over the unspent $80,000 amount of the program from 2020, and add in an additional $40,000 to continue the program to the end of the 2021 calendar year.