Mobile crisis unit helps keep people with mental health issues out of ER

A mobile crisis unit designed to keep people with mental health problems out of emergency rooms is working, say two of its organizers.

The unit is a collaboration between the Vitalité​ and Horizon health networks and the RCMP.

The Codiac Regional Policing Authority got an update on the program Thursday.

Denise Fortin of the Vitalité​ Health Network said the unit offers services seven days a week from noon until 10 p.m.

The team offers support to children, youth, adults and people dealing with addiction or mental health problems, she said.

Anne Losier of the Horizon Health Network said the objective in having a social worker assigned to work with the RCMP is to reduce the hours officers spend in an emergency room with clients and to offer outreach for people who have not sought services.

"Dispatch connects the RCMP and the social worker and all calls are partnered until resolved," Losier said.

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She said data shows the program is working.

"Of all the interventions we did with the RCMP, 83 per cent of those calls were resolved in community," Losier said. "We didn't have to go to the hospital and wait three, four, five, six, seven hours." 

RCMP hours spent in the emergency room have dropped to about 20 a month from 80, and there has been an increase in people seeking long-term mental-health services.

Charles Leger, the chair of the Codiac Regional Policing Authority, said the need for the program became apparent in 2013.

"There was a lot of pressure from the general public in wanting to have officers visible on the streets of Moncton," he said. "And to do that you had to figure out, well, what were officers doing while they were out there because they're very busy."

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That's when it became clear how many hours RCMP were spending in emergency departments each month on calls related to mental health, he said.  

The board heard about two success stories. 

In one, RCMP went to the home of a 32-year-old man to get him to sign "mandatory papers." He was high on speed, paranoid and would not leave the house, holding a knife to his neck and threatening to kill himself.

This is like going from horse-drawn carriage to the automobile as far as I'm concerned when it comes to policing being able to have somebody there to support and do that." - James Graves, Codiac Regional Policing Authority

Fortin said the mobile crisis unit was able to intervene, and the police were able to have the papers signed and the crisis was defused.

The other story involved a 77-year-old man who was deaf, lived alone in a farmhouse and could not pay for heat, food or other essentials.

Rats had infested the house and bitten the man on the face in the past. Paranoid, he would not go to the doctor's office or the hospital, and had been exposing himself in public.

The police made visits to the home and adult protection was notified, but the case wasn't resolved.

The mobile crisis service intervened with the RCMP, the man was taken to hospital and fast-tracked to a special care home.

Retired Mountie applauds progress

Fortin and Losier said there are still some challenges to overcome, including the hours the service is available, resources, long wait times to see physicians and dealing with two different health authorities.

James Graves, a board member of the policing authority and former RCMP officer, applauded the program, which came in after he retired.

"This is like going from horse-drawn carriage to the automobile as far as I'm concerned when it comes to policing being able to have somebody there to support and do that." he said.