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Funding adds mental health workers to police calls

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Lanark County Mental Health is getting some new money to help expand and maintain mobile crisis response teams (MRCT) in the area.

The funding will allow us to hire two full-time equivalents, one nurse and one social worker who will work directly with police services, as well as one part-time housing case manager, who will do follow up visits or wellness checks, accompanied by an office, after a crisis situation,” said Rebecca Fromowitz, executive director, Lanark Mental Health.

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The exact amount of funding is complicated, in so far as some of it is coming from Ontario Health – Champlain (in partnership with North Lanark Community Health Services) and County of Lanark. In addition, not all the funding is being released at the same time, according to Fromowitz, but the total amount of several envelopes is more than $200,000.

“We are now able to ensure that at least six days per week there is a professional mental health practitioner able to assist police with the calls they receive from the public where mental health concerns are evident,” said Fromowitz, adding that the service is still uneven across the region with areas such as Brockville, for example, still only able to field a mental health worker one or two days a week.

Under the MCRT model, community mental health workers provide their services out of police detachments and respond together with police to identify mental health needs. In this way, they can provide immediate response and supports, and help individuals access appropriate community resources, including income and food security, housing and other basic needs. A mental health worker will also do a follow-up visit or wellness check, accompanied by an officer, following a crisis situation when appropriate.

The goal of the program is to reduce emergency room visits resulting from behavioural or mental health crisis as well as to collaborate with local emergency departments for consultation and support for individuals in distress. It also reduces the need for apprehension or involvement with the justice system. Its intent is to build and strengthen partnerships between community service providers and helps promote community mental health awareness and education; and provide support to police officers and act as a preventative tool through early, appropriate intervention.

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When comparing the rate of hospital attendance for mental health related calls to the police for the years before the implementation of the MCRT initiative and since its operation, the positive impact of the program can be seen,” said Fromowitz, quoting from a study.

Statistically, there has been a big reduction in apprehensions as a result of the Mobile Crisis units, according to Mark MacGillivray, Smiths Falls chief of police.

Data from Lanark Mental Health shows that involuntary hospital visits dropped from 35 per cent in 2016 to 18 per cent in 2018 when the program was launched and only inched up to 20 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, voluntary hospital admissions have dropped from 37 per cent in 2016 to 14 per cent in 2019.

The Mobile Crisis Unit certainly helps the outcome in reducing the stigma attached to being brought to the hospital in the company of a police officer if that becomes the appropriate response, and the follow-up visits help reduce the repeat calls,” said MacGillivray.

The MCRT program began as a pilot project funded through a Proceeds of Crime – Front-line Policing Grant in 2018. It is a partnership between LCMH, Lanark OPP and Smiths Falls Police Service to respond to mental health-related crisis situations.

“Since it began, the MCRT program has been an invaluable asset to the Lanark OPP,” said Lanark County OPP interim detachment commander, Insp. Karuna Padiachi. “We now have two officers assigned to this program, and we continue to seek ways to expand further.”

Brockville Recorder & Times is part of the Local Journalism Initiative and reporters are funded by the Government of Canada to produce civic journalism for underserved communities. Learn more about the initiative

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