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New program assisting with mental health-related calls

“It helps police, it helps AHS and foremost, it helps the client because they can get better treatment. If you’re in a city, you’ll have more resources but in a rural area they can be harder to get. It’s trying to bridge that gap.”

BOW VALLEY – A new program split between Alberta Health Services and the RCMP has shown early success in assisting people in need of mental health care.

Launched last April, the Regional Police and Crisis Team (RPACT) has previously seen success in urban areas such as Calgary and Edmonton, but now has resources to work in rural settings throughout the province.

The aim of the teams is to minimize mental health-related calls for service as well as help frontline police officers when responding to such calls.

“There’s a need. There’s more mental health calls. We’re always looking for different ways to help people, so that was a model that was used in bigger cities,” said Cpl. David Bibeau, assigned with the Cochrane RPACT unit. “AHS and the RCMP thought it would be a good idea to start rurally. We’re always looking for new ways to improve policing in rural settings.”

The Cochrane-based team launched last March and serves 11 police detachments between Lake Louise in the west to Drumheller in the east. It includes communities such as Banff and Canmore, but also Olds, Chestermere and Strathmore as well as others.

The program began in 2022, with six teams in the province that include an RCMP officer and an AHS clinician, nurse or social worker teamed up to respond to calls. The second phase, which is expected in 2023, will add an additional six teams.

The third phase is planned to have the teams doubled from 12 to 24 and is also expected to add a second team in the Cochrane-area, which includes the Bow Valley.

“It’s still early days, but the goal is to have all geographical areas of the province covered,” said Spencer Schneider, the manager of rural west for Cochrane and Bow Valley Addiction and Mental Health. “This is a massive service region … These layers are starting to get added. It’s a really good thing because it provides equitable access to rural residents as it does for cities.”

Bibeau said a key aspect is a continuation of strengthening relationships between AHS and police. He noted mental health-related calls have been climbing, but having AHS assist police is beneficial in helping people.

“They create lots of calls for police and the members may be unsure of a situation. With RPACT teams and the assistance of AHS, there’s a broader understanding of the Mental Health Act and the knowledge of what’s on their record,” he said. “The AHS partner can speak with their doctor and see if it’s a departure for their baseline. It helps a police officer make a decision and if the client needs to see a doctor.”

It can result in a call being de-escalated, a person being referred to proper resources, or service calls being followed up by a therapist or doctor to provide additional help.

“It doesn’t have to come to the point where they need to be hospitalized. … Perhaps it’s re-establishing a care plan that’s already in place or it might mean a brief hospitalization, so the wheels don’t have to come completely off,” Schneider said.

At a recent Canmore committee of the whole meeting, an example provided of the team assisting had Banff and Canmore police responding to 18 calls for service last summer.

Tanya Hansen, an AHS mental health clinician, said the team was able to help the person, though it can take several times to properly assist someone.

“It does take time to resolve or lessen any type of crisis or mental health services. You don’t go once and it’s taken care of, which unfortunately RCMP only have those types of resources most of the time,” she told Canmore council. “With the mental health component, we’re well aware this is going to take several attempts.”

Though the intent of the teams is to help on the ground, they’re also able to assist officers in the field over the phone to walk them through what had an officer respond to the call, describe the scene, look up information on a person and help with the decision process.

RCMP and AHS also have a phone line that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week that officers can call, which allows them to talk with a mental health professional to gain more information and work with a person to assist in getting proper care.

Schneider said connecting people with local resources they may not know exist is an added benefit.

He noted Bow Valley Addiction and Mental Health has a presence at Canmore General Hospital seven days a week. There are also outpatient clinics in Banff and Canmore, with Lake Louise having a visiting office twice a week at the Lake Louise Medical Clinic, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought on the ability to do virtual care in addition to in-person options.

“Rural residents tend to languish a little more than their urban counterparts because they’re so far removed from those resources,” Schneider said. “Something like RPACT has an assertive model and can support people who are living away from those supports.”

While the program is still in its first year in the region, Bibeau added they’ve seen a noticeable difference in being able to help people in rural settings.

“It helps police, it helps AHS and foremost, it helps the client because they can get better treatment. If you’re in a city, you’ll have more resources but in a rural area they can be harder to get. It’s trying to bridge that gap,” Bibeau said.

“It’s a positive outcome for police since we have less calls and it’s a positive for AHS because they’re able to provide the best care they can for that person. The more information we get, the better care can be provided.”

About the Author: Greg Colgan

Greg is the editor for the Outlook.
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