NDP bill would see mental health response teams attend crisis calls

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NDP Leader Gary Burrill's party tabled legislation Friday aimed at improving mental health services for 911 crisis calls. (CBC - image credit)
NDP Leader Gary Burrill's party tabled legislation Friday aimed at improving mental health services for 911 crisis calls. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill says that when someone calls 911 for a mental health emergency, the police should not be the first people who arrive on scene.

Burrill's party tabled amendments to the Emergency 911 Act on Friday at Province House.

The changes would see 911 dispatch refer mental health crisis calls to a mental health response team in a person's area. It would also call for those teams to be appropriately educated and, when they do include a police officer, for that person not to be in uniform.

"Police themselves have said there are quite a number of 911 responses of emergency mental health situations that they are sent to for which they are simply not qualified to respond," Burrill told reporters.

The right people for the right moment

Officials with the police departments in Truro and Bridgewater have previously shared their concerns about members being called to such crisis situations but not being the most appropriate option.

Burrill pointed to the system in Alberta, where a 911 call for a mental health emergency is responded to with a team that can include clinical social workers and psychologists.

"So we have the right people there at the right moment."

Although there is an unequal level of available services across the province, Burrill said that isn't an excuse to avoid addressing the need.

A mental health emergency service is every bit as necessary as fire, police or ambulance services, and no one would suggest all parts of the province aren't entitled to those, said Burrill

"We need to expand that model and make that fourth level of emergency services available to all the people in the province."

Budget to include 'significant increase' in support

Premier Iain Rankin said this is the type of thing officials in the new office of mental health and addictions will be examining.

Rankin has promised a "significant increase" in support for mental health services when the provincial budget is released the week of March 22.

Although there is a 1-800 number people can call for assistance and the province is within national guidelines responding to those calls, Rankin said the government needs to look at service discrepancies in all parts of the province, something that includes income levels.

"We need to definitely provide more supports within communities and that's going to be a focus in this budget."

Burrill said he'd be watching to see how that looks. Right now, he said, there are two levels of service in the province.

"We have one system for people who can afford private services — they get it today — [and] another system for those who have to go to the public system who have to wait for weeks and months."

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