B.C. nurse practitioners will now be able to decide whether to commit people experiencing mental health crises involuntarily under the Mental Health Act, the government announced Thursday.
The move is aimed at reducing long wait times at emergency departments, officials said in a news release.
“By enabling nurse practitioners to assess patients, we are reducing the pressure on emergency department physicians and making sure that people in distress are able to get help faster,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
The change will be especially beneficial for police officers who frequently respond to mental health calls, according to Chief Constable Del Manak of the Victoria Police Department.
“These changes are a positive step forward for police departments across B.C.,” he said. “Not only will officers now be able to transfer care of an individual to hospitals in a more timely manner, they will be able to return to the community much sooner to focus on addressing crime and ensuring public safety.”
As part of the government’s Pathway to Hope program, which aims to build a more comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care, mental health facility directors can now admit patients with mental health disorders to designated facilities for up to 48 hours, after which a physician is required to examine the patient.
This change will provide a more timely response for those brought to the hospital by police officers and reduce the wait time for people in need of mental health crisis assessment and access to care, the government says.
The Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of B.C. expressed appreciation for the change, emphasizing that nursing professionals are often the first point of contact for people seeking mental-health care.
“Nursing professionals are educated experts in relational practice, are often British Columbian’s first and primary connection when seeking mental-health care, and are essential to ensuring care, equity and justice within our health-care system,” said Alix Arndt, interim CEO of the organization.
A recent amendment to the Mental Health Act also ensures that people involuntarily admitted under the act can access support from an independent rights adviser. The government passed the legislation during the spring 2022 legislative session, and the new service is expected to start serving patients in the fall of 2023.
Earlier this year, the City of Victoria also launched its own co-response team between Victoria Police and Island Health which will see a mental health clinician and a police officer respond to calls with a significant mental health component.