The officer in charge of the Houston RCMP detachment is happy with the results of having his officers team up with Northern Health psychiatric nurses to do weekly wellness checks of people with mental health issues.
Sergeant Mark Smaill said the initiative, begun about the middle of last year, is starting to show results.
“The officers are saying they are starting to see a reduction in the amount of police interactions with substance abuse or mental health issues,” he said.
“It’s hard to put a number on it just yet but that’s what we’re hearing,” Smaill added of the wellness checks which take place every Thursday.
A nurse and an officer will check that people with medications are taking those medications and determine what other help they may need. They will offer rides, if needed, make appointments at the health centre and offer assistance in refilling prescriptions.
With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping more people isolated and at home, the checks have taken on an added significance.
A nurse and an officer will also visit the soup kitchen, tour the mall and go to other places to inquire about a person’s wellbeing.
The foundation behind the checks is that it is far better to be proactive than to have to react to a situation requiring a more robust response, said Smaill in adding that the detachment is beneffiting by working with nurses.
“Partnering with the mental health team at the Houston Health Centre has been a great partnership between the local police and health care,” he said.
An officer will even be brought in on a day off, if necessary, to ensure the Thursday checks take place.
“If we don’t have we have enough members on duty, we have committed to bringing in a police officer on their day off and they are compensated with overtime (either banked time or pay),” said Smaill.
“This is definitely a priority for us and we have budgeted to ensure their is resources available to keep this program going.”
Officers do have the option, under urgent or emergent situations, of taking people into custody for assessment and treatment under the provincial Mental Health Act.
But if wellness checks are one way of avoiding that kind of response, it is a much better outcome for all concerned, said Smaill.
“If we have to take someone either to Burns Lake or to Smithers for an assessment, we can’t leave that person until they’ve seen a doctor and there’s a decision made about what kind of care they need and we’re assured of that,” he said. “That can sometimes take six hours or more.”