Collaborative project to better respond to mental health and addictions-related police calls
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Continuing efforts to provide a more effective response to mental health and addictions-related police calls in town, Sioux Lookout OPP have partnered with Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Kenora Branch, to divert individuals away from emergency departments and the justice system, into appropriate community supports.
Sioux Lookout OPP Community Safety / Mobilization Officer, Constable Andrea DeGagne shared, “The Sioux Lookout OPP have been working closely with the Northwestern Health Unit, SLFNHA – NODIN MHS (Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority-Nodin Mental Health Services), and Canadian Mental Health Agency – Kenora, for approximately two years now, in order to grow our Crisis Response Program and better connect individuals to mental health and general healthcare support services, ultimately diverting them from the Justice System.”
This new partnership, known as the Sioux Lookout Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT), is expected to launch June 21, involving a CMHA mental health worker embedded within the Sioux Lookout OPP detachment. “The crisis worker will be able to assess the individual on the scene, offer assistance, provide referrals and attend hospital with police if a hospital visit is necessary,” shared a joint media release by Sioux Lookout OPP and CMHA Kenora.
“The OPP ran a Crisis Response pilot project in 2019, in partnership with Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC), and funded by a Proceeds of Crime Frontline Policing grant. The program paired a health care worker with frontline police officers to respond to mental health and addictions related 9-1-1 calls for service in the Municipality of Sioux Lookout. Throughout that extremely successful pilot project, there were gaps in local services noted, especially in getting individuals supported so they can easily access health care and mental health services, and obtain support, education, and resources before getting into a crisis state requiring emergency response,” shared DeGagne.
The pilot project supported approximately 150 individuals experiencing mental health and/or addictions crises in the Municipality of Sioux Lookout, providing them with direct access to appropriate health care and support services, shared the media release. When the pilot project was coming to an end, it received assistance from the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) to start a new collaborative project between local service providers.
“The NWHU secured four years of funding for an expanded crisis response and outreach program, through a Health Canada Substance Use and Addictions Program grant. CMHA Kenora secured additional funding through the Ontario Ministry of Health to operate the Mobile Crisis Response Team seven days a week,” shared DeGagne.
The Sioux Lookout MCRT is being funded from Ontario Health and Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program contribution, received by the Northwestern Health Unit, Sioux Lookout, shared the news release. The initiative will begin operation on a rotational schedule of 10-to-12-hour shifts, four to five days at a time, expanding to daily coverage in the coming months.
The Mobile Crisis Response Team is supported by the Mobile Outreach Team, which is staffed by councilors managed by SLFNHA – NODIN Mental Health Services and health care professionals managed by the NWHU, shared DeGagne. She added that there is currently one full-time Mobile Outreach Mental Health and Addictions Counselor, with an opening to recruit another counselor to work in Sioux Lookout, from the Mobile Outreach Team van that has been provided specifically for this project by SLFNHA - NODIN MHS.
The media release states that in the Sioux Lookout MCRT, the mental health worker and police officer will work as a team to:
- De-escalate, assess, and provide resources to individuals experiencing a mental health or addictions-related crisis
- Divert individuals from unnecessary hospital emergency department visits and involvement with the justice system
- Determine appropriate links to community services
- Provide timely and appropriate crisis intervention for individuals and caregivers
- Decrease stigma of individuals living with mental health and/or addictions issues
- Build and maintain effective partnerships between police services and health care agencies
“The Sioux Lookout MCRT is going to get people the right support through direct connections to community resources,” said CMHA Kenora Executive Director Sara Dias. “This new partnership with the Sioux Lookout OPP will allow people in crisis to get help that will build resilience and prevent relapse. Getting individuals, the right care when and where they need it will create a mentally healthier community overall.”
Individuals experiencing crisis and requiring emergency police response should call 9-1-1 to activate services. Anyone in crisis and looking for confidential phone support or a referral can reach out to the Kenora-Rainy River District Crisis Response Services at 1-866-888-8988 to be connected to local resources.