Mental health checks proving valuable

Police officer and nurse team up each week

File photo

A weekly shift in which a Houston RCMP officer and a Northern Health psychiatric nurse team up to conduct mental health checks is proving its worth, says the officer in command of the RCMP detachment here.

Begun as a pilot project more than half a year ago, Sgt. Mark Smaill says that while it may still be too early to place a statistical value on the checks, reports from his officers indicate there are positive outcomes.

“We are making those contacts with people in the community,” said Smaill who also spoke to the District of Houston council last month about the weekly checks.

And the results are enough that Smaill is moving the effort from a pilot stage to a regular part of the detachment’s duties.

The every-Thursday checks are meant to connect with people as to their well-being, provide information as needed and offer assistance in providing services available through the Houston Health Centre or other agencies.

On average, the officer and nurse check in with seven people each Thursday.

“They’ll also, for instance, go through the mall to see who is there and visit local agencies,” Smaill said. ”It all really depends on the week. They can respond to referrals or be called to situations.

In a practical sense, connecting with people before there is a situation is far better than dealing with one as it unfolds, said Smaill.

“As the only agency in a smaller community that is 24-7, we are called upon at all hours. We’re often the only ones who can then respond,” said Smaill.

“While we do respond, often people’s needs are really complex whether it be an addiction of self-medication,” he said in adding that officers do not have the kind of training that’s often required.

“Having the expertise of a nurse, by being proactive, is then invaluable,” Smaill continued.

At times, depending upon the situation and the time of day, members may be required to transport a person to Burns Lake or Smithers and must stay with a person until they receive the required care. It’s a circumstance that can take up hours of an officer’s time and anything police can do that reduces that demand of time is worthwhile.

Prior to the pilot project launch last year, police communicated with health care workers informally and as needed, a circumstance that then prompted a more defined approach in dealing with mental health in the community, said Smaill.

Houston mayor Shane Brienen welcomed the partnership of the RCMP and Northern Health in providing a service that’s beneficial to the community.

He wondered if the concept of combined RCMP and psychiatric nurse checks happens in other small communities and suggested the local experience could be used elsewhere.