New police and mental health clinician response team launches in Victoria

CHEK

Island Health and Victoria police are launching a co-response team that will respond to mental health calls in Victoria and Esquimalt, which one advocate says is another important tool in assisting people in distress.

The Co-Response Team (CRT) will consist of a registered mental health clinician and a police officer to respond to calls with a significant mental health component.

“These collaborative efforts aim to reduce harm to people in crisis, the community and clinical mental health staff,” said Leah Hollins, Island Health board chair. “These services provide rapid interventions, connect people with services and aim to reduce a person’s involvement with emergency health services, the criminal justice system and law enforcement.”

The CRT will operate 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. This team joins the Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team (IMCRT) and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) as responses to mental health-related calls on the South Island.

IMCRT is a collaboration between Island Health and police agencies in Greater Victoria and is deployed through Vancouver Island Crisis Line: 1-888-494-3888. They have access to a plainclothes police officer if needed, but instead of first-response, they deal with more follow-up care. They operate 1 p.m. to midnight and serve the entire southern Vancouver Island.

“This program really builds on that work that’s been done regionally and focuses on the high volume of calls here in Victoria and Esquimalt,” said Rob Schuckel, clinical coordinator for Island Health mental health and substance use services for access and crisis.

The Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) does more case management for individuals already identified, who have severe and persistent mental illness.

Also expected to launch soon are Peer Assisted Care Teams (PACT) organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association. The main difference is PACT peer teams won’t respond with police.

“We can’t have confusion and we want people to know when they call for a particular team, the right response goes forward,” said Jonathan Morris, CEO of the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Morris says the Peer Assisted Care Teams (PACT), operated by AVI Health and Community Services in Victoria, is working on getting fully up and running soon.

“They’ve completed a comprehensive training curriculum over the past recent weeks and months and currently they’re doing the really important work behind the scenes of really embedding themselves in the existing systems of care in Victoria,” Morris said in an interview with CHEK News.

“The AVI team believes that to be a really important step, just to make sure they’re on as solid a footing before they’re publicly listing their number for contact here…But from what I would say they’ve moved through a whole range of processes, and I’m optimistic that they’ll be taking calls from the public very, very soon.”

Morris says he believes it will be important for the PACT team and the newly announced Co-Response Team to work together in responding to mental health calls.

“What we hope is we have a world where, in many ways, PACT does become the default response to someone in crisis, particularly people experiencing community drivers of crisis,” Morris said. “We would see we would hope that we could arrive in a situation where police are deployed to mental health and substance use emergencies only in exceptional circumstances when there are particular criteria needing a police response.”

VicPD says officers on the CRT have specialized training in client-centered, trauma-informed approaches and de-escalation.

Del Manak, VicPD’s chief, says the team has been taking calls for two weeks already.

“In one example, while responding to a call of concerning behaviour the clinician in attendance was able to identify a likely reason for the displayed behaviour, provide medical advice and help that person refill a prescription over the phone,” Manak said.

“Had this been a police-only response, the person would most likely have been transported to the hospital because the officer would not have had the expertise to ask those probing questions and to come up with a solution other than to apprehend them under the Mental Health Act.”

-With files from CHEK’s Kori Sidaway, Keith Vass

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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