IH should be aware of city's desire to expand PACT program: Basran

Should be no surprise to IH

UPDATE: 11:20 a.m.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says the city's desire to expand the Police and Crisis Team program should come as no surprise to Interior Health.

The program, which pairs a nurse with a specially trained RCMP officer to respond to mental health emergencies, was introduced in the city in March 2017. Since then, just one nurse has been hired for the program, and the service is only available Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Earlier this week, Mayor Basran said he'd like to see the program expanded, after he viewed the disturbing video from January 2020 of an RCMP officer dragging and kicking a UBC Okanagan student undergoing a mental health crisis.

While the city has provided funding for the RCMP to expand the program, Basran said Interior Health hadn't “come to the table with another nurse.”

While IH told Castanet they could find no record of any formal requests from the city to expand the program, Basran shared with Castanet a letter he sent to IH Chair Doug Cochrane back in October 2017, seven months after the PACT program was first put in place.

“Having begun this innovative service less than one year ago, we can see that the volume of work that exists has already pushed the PACT members to the limits of their capacity to help more clients,” Basran wrote. “It is our hope Interior Health can find the resources to add more capacity to the program in 2018.”

In an April 2019 report to council, city staff recommended city council dedicate additional RCMP officers to the PACT program, which was done, and lobby Interior Health to “provide matching nurse resources.”

City of Kelowna's Carla Weaden says IH staff reviewed this report and were in attendance when it was presented to council. Additionally, RCMP Supt. Brent Mundle says he's had conversations with IH staff about expanding the program.

Weaden suggested that perhaps the IH staff who were aware of the city's desire to expand the program hadn't relayed that information to more senior personnel.

But Basran says the city's desire to expand the program "should not be a surprise to IH."

Castanet has reached out to IH for further clarification on the matter.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

An apparent lack of communication between the City of Kelowna and Interior Health appears to have stunted a valuable mental health program in the city. 

The City of Kelowna has provided the RCMP funding since at least the 2019 budget to expand a program that pairs an officer with a psychiatric nurse for mental health calls, but since Interior Health has not funded an additional nurse for the program, that officer has been assigned another role. But IH says the City of Kelowna has never actually made a formal request to expand the program.

The Police and Crisis Team program was introduced in Kelowna in 2017, pairing an RCMP officer with a psychiatric nurse to respond to people experiencing mental health emergencies.

Interest around the PACT program has grown after a disturbing video came to light earlier this week as part of a civil suit against a Kelowna RCMP officer. The video shows Const. Lacey Browning dragging UBC Okanagan student Mona Wang down a hallway and stepping on her head, after Const. Browing responded by herself to a “wellness check” on Wang on the evening of Jan. 20, 2020. Wang, who had not been accused of any crime, had attempted suicide

Interior Health currently funds one full-time nurse for the PACT program, and as a result, PACT is available Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The incident with Wang and Const. Browning occurred on a Monday.

After viewing the video of Wang and Const. Browning, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said he'd like to see an expansion of the PACT program, so a nurse is available more often to help the RCMP respond to mental health crises.

“We have an officer assigned to our Police and Crisis Team already working with a mental health nurse, and that is very well received,” Basran said Tuesday. "We have another officer assigned to enhance that team, but Interior Health has yet to come to the table with another nurse, which we could really use.”

But Roger Parsonage, one of the executive directors of Interior Health's clinical operations, says he can find no record of the City of Kelowna ever making a request to IH for an expansion of the program.

“We would be happy to engage in discussions with the city and with the RCMP about how we can better align our health services to meet the needs of people who are experiencing a mental health emergency,” Parsonage said. “We would be open to talking about what the RCMP are seeing in the needs of the population and what information the city has.”

When Kelowna city councillor Ryan Donn inquired about the PACT program earlier this week, Kelowna RCMP Supt. Brent Mundle told him the City of Kelowna currently provides RCMP funding to expand the PACT program, but they're just waiting for IH to fund an additional psychiatric nurse. As such, the additional officer is being used elsewhere.

“We see the need for that to increase, and so does the Superintendent, because essentially he's got 858 calls per year called 'wellness checks,'” Donn said.

“The program is extremely successful, it is essentially how our city should be moving forward – mental health support alongside an RCMP officer versus just RCMP officers. And everybody loves it, the RCMP do, IH does, the clients love it; it is the solution essentially.”

With the video of Wang's violent detention at the hands of an RCMP officer coming to light, Donn hopes it will show the need for an expansion of the PACT program.

“It is the way forward so I feel like there's potential momentum here to bring this to the radar, to say 'We actually have our next step ready to go,'” he said. “24/7 would be the goal, most crises I think happen in the middle of the night.”

Parsonage said the IH Crisis Response Team, which doesn't involve the RCMP, is available to respond to mental health crises seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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