What began as a conversation has now evolved into a partnership between the Houston Health Centre and the Houston RCMP detachment to connect with those in need of mental health services.
That conversation between health centre program manager Cindy Cockle and former detachment commander Sgt. Jason Burndred last year revealed that both agencies were dealing with a changing demographic within the area, says Cockle.
For the police it was responding to individuals in crisis and for the health centre it was how to provide services to those people.
“For us it was how to support people that aren’t coming in [to the health centre] or who were perhaps shy,” said Cockle of those first conversations between herself and Burndred.
And for the RCMP it was encountering people needing the kind of service and help for which they weren’t trained, a situation amplified as the RCMP become the agency of last resort, especially at nights and on weekends.
Often, when there was an issue of safety, officers would take a person to the Bulkley Valley District Hospital in Smithers, a circumstance that could involve much of an officer’s time on shift. It also meant taking a person outside of their home community.
“We wanted to get to people before there was a crisis,” said Cockle.
When Burndred transferred out and Sergeant Mark Smaill became the detachment commander, those conversations continued with first a pilot project which has now become a regular feature of a registered psychiatric nurse and an officer going out each Thursday.
“It was a matter of thinking out of the box,” said Cockle of the emerging partnership.
For the health centre, the arrival in Houston of a registered psychiatric nurse was an upside in having the ability of someone available with that kind of training and experience.
The officer and nurse will have a list of people to visit but will also, when time permits, walk through the mall, visit various agencies and check out other areas of the community.
Cockle said that kind of close contact is in keeping with the philosophy of the health centre of providing people with services and support adopted and adapted to local needs.
“If we can safely keep people in the community, that’s the goal. It’s also not just the person. The person may have a family,” she said.
And establishing contact and help then keeps that person connected when it comes to ongoing support which Cockle describes as a continuity of care.
“It’s been very successful and we’re very pleased,” she said of the results.
One solid measurement has been a reduction in admissions to the Bulkley Valley District Hospital in Smithers.
Houston is not the only community in the north in which health care professionals and police officers combine forces for programs like this and each is unique depending upon the needs of the community.
“What we’ve done here and what we are doing is listening to the needs of the community and then responding,” said Cockle.