Adults with severe mental health or substance use issues are the focus of a new team being rolled out across the northwest to assist health care workers and emergency responders.
Health specialists based in Terrace will provide interventions in cases involving unstable and serious addiction and mental illness with the goal being to reduce the time these patients spend in hospital.
The team is expected to work extended hours including evenings and weekends to respond to urgent health crisis quickly.
“It’s based out of Terrace, but the resource is not just for the Terrace population,” explained Penny Anguish, northwest chief operating officer for the Northern Health Authority.
“Their role as a team is going to be to help the health care teams in other communities who are also caring for people with severe mental health or addictions issues.”
Eight members including nursing and substance abuse specialists and life skills workers will be part of the intensive case management team.
It’s the first of its kind in the northwest with workers aiming to be available when other agencies are closed and people need help.
They will also be providing outreach on the streets to connect individuals to services.
Though day-to-day operations are still being determined, Anguish noted the team will be coordinating with other health workers, paramedics, police officers and social agencies.
“[The team] is targeting a population that has severe mental and addiction issues and so that population often struggles to do a lot of the basic things that are expected, social functioning around maintaining housing and jobs,” said Anguish.
“It can’t be a typical process, the populations that they are trying to serve aren’t exactly connected with health care providers so we can’t just rely on health care providers doing referrals,” she added.
For this reason, the team will operate largely in the community.
But Anguish is clear that the team is small and its services will be spread across the northwest.
“It’s not a huge resource, it’s a finite resource and so they obviously aren’t going to be able to be running around the northwest providing direct care full time,” she said, noting they are tasked with servicing a region that stretches from Houston north to the Yukon border.
The team takes over many of the responsibilities previously under the mental health unit’s Community Response Unit (CRU) and is part of a region-wide shift the Northern Health Authority is taking in an attempt to improve care.
CRU nurse positions across the northwest are being phased out in favour of more diverse teams of health care providers, said Anguish.
New money from the provincial government spurred the heath authority to start the program here as well as in Fort St. John modeled after a similar one already in place in Prince George.
“This team won’t work exactly the same because that is more of an urban setting, we’re very clear this team won’t just be working out of Terrace,” said Anguish.
They will take over the rapid response function of CRU workers, aiming to respond to mental health crisis within hours of being notified.
But they’re not the only unit whose response function is being strengthened, Anguish noted.
“If someone’s health status is changing,” she explained, “there needs to be a way that, that day, we can mobilize different resources for them and adjust whatever support is in place to accommodate whatever the change is.
“We’re looking at that change generally across the health system, how we can do better in that,” she said. “[The intensive case management team] they’ll be doing that, but they’ll be targeting a narrower population.”
However, Anguish cautions that this team is not meant to be emergency response which would admit individuals to hospitals immediately.
They also will also cease to be involved in cases where mental health or substance use issues have stabilized.