CMHA BC says new care teams attend to mental health crises, reducing police response

Crisis teams free up police

Teams of mental health professionals and trained civilians are providing care for people in distress while freeing up police and other emergency resources, according to the head of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division.

Last year, the province committed $10 million to fund existing and new Peer Assisted Care Teams with the support of CMHA BC. The program will be rolling out to Kamloops this fall.

PACTs are currently operating on Vancouver’s North Shore, in New Westminster and in Victoria.

Speaking at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention on Tuesday, Jonathan Morris, CEO for CMHA BC, said PACTs received 1,118 calls for service between January and July 2023. Only six required escalation to police due to an imminent safety risk.

“These teams have been going out to alleviate individual distress and we hope and we anticipate to free up police resources so they can respond to the right kind of crisis and address public safety issues, which I know is top of mind for many,” Morris said.

Jocelyn Jenkyns, city manager for the City of Victoria, said the city has worked together with service providers and other groups to develop a largely grant-funded strategy to address the ongoing mental health and addictions crisis.

Jenkyns said the peer assisted care teams, which have been operating in Victoria since January, are a “true success story” that has come out of grant funding.

The teams involve a mental health professional paired with a trained and skilled peer, someone who has lived experience. Morris said the teams respond to mental health emergencies, including “acute” and complicated situations, like suicidal crises. They also provide wellness checks on behalf of third parties.

Morris said teams have responded to situations like someone in a shelter behaving erratically to a person who was conscious, but laying on the street near traffic.

“So many members of the public are in this place of ‘Who do I call in this moment? Do I call the police? What response might that triggered? Do I call an ambulance? And we're grateful for the opportunity that PACTs in the three pilot communities is a response that they can call,” Morris said.

He said the majority of mental health interventions don’t require police, but law enforcement has become the default response, draining resources and in some cases, increasing the chance of conflict.

Morris noted the emergency department can also become a “revolving door” for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

“PACT provides a cost-effective way to provide mental health care outside of those overburdened systems,” he said.

“In a spectrum of care where thresholds drive who goes at the right time to the right people, we would argue with the investment we received, starting with UBCM and the province, we are along the way of better addressing mental health needs.”

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