Interior Health and the RCMP are committing additional resources to ensure response teams are available for mental health calls seven days a week in Kelowna and Kamloops.
The expanded service announced Thursday afternoon means a team comprised of an RCMP officer and medical health professional will be able to respond to mental health related calls from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.
Both cities have separate programs presently (PACT in Kelowna and Car40 in Kamloops), however neither has been adequately staffed to provide the crisis teams on a regular schedule.
Presently, there is just one nurse available in each city while Kelowna is staffed with four RCMP officers and Kamloops two.
The newly named Integrated Crisis Response Teams (ICRT) will be staffed with three nurses in each city while Kamloops will add a third RCMP officer to the team. Kelowna's RCMP compliment will remain at four.
"This is truly a collaborative effort between Interior Health and the RCMP," said Southeast District Chief Supt. Brad Haugli, who has been calling for expansion of the service since a violent wellness check involving a UBC Okanagan student.
"Standardizing our Integrated Crisis Response Teams is an essential first step, and having Interior Health support to expand this very important service in our existing programs in Kamloops and Kelowna is very important and appreciated."
Haugli says the expanded service comes at a time when mental health related calls are on the rise.
In 2021, he says the RCMP received 17,484 mental health calls for service, a 16 per cent increase over 2019, while also receiving 5,238 apprehension calls, a 21 per cent jump.
Political leaders in both communities have also been calling for additional resources in order to expand the program beyond its current level.
Interior Health CEO Susan Brown says the holdup in expanding the service was determining how to standardize the Kelowna and Kamloops programs and identify differences and determine hours available when calls came into the RCMP
Interior Health did commit to looking at both of these services, and there was a need to standardize. The committee looking into this had to identify the differences and how to have the hours available when the calls came into RCMP.
Funding for the program will be provided within Interior Health's existing global budget according to Brown.
Brown says the $3 million in finding for expansion of integrated crisis teams could be used if there is a need to expand the service beyond Kelowna and Kamloops.
The ICRT teams are expected to hit the streets early in the new year.