The commander of the Fort St. John RCMP says he's hopeful the detachment's new Car 60 program will be on patrol by December.
The program pairs psychiatric nurses with RCMP officers to respond to mental health calls. Two Northern Health employees are currently getting the clearance needed to work with the RCMP.
“We’re happy to have finally reached this point. It’s certainly been a long time coming and there’s definitely a need for this type of unit here," said Insp. Tony Hanson. "We’re hoping that the unit will be up and running by December, that’s the goal. Then we can start to make that immediate impact and start helping people in crisis.”
Fort St. John RCMP responded to 343 mental health related calls in 2020, up from 256 calls five years ago in 2016.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a huge factor impacting the mental health of Canadians, said Hanson, noting mental health calls are up by roughly 20% over last year.
“What we’ve noticed is that the severity of the calls is increasing, in the sense that when people call us in crisis they’re in a much deeper state of crisis where they’re actively trying to harm themselves, or are suffering some kind of mental break, and so that’s what really pushed us, especially over COVID,” Hanson said.
Through the new program, nurses can use Northern Health’s database to provide point of service care, and preliminary diagnoses can be made on scene, eliminating the time spent by officers waiting at the hospital for patients to see physicians.
“When it comes to the Car 60 unit, how it tends to work is the nurse or the social worker, the health employee takes the lead. The member is there is to ensure the safety of the nurse, the public, and the person in crisis,” Hanson said.
“The medical professional then has a safer space to do their work. The police take a step back, because we’re not mental health professionals.”
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News