In Terrace, and across Canada, police are dealing with more and more people with mental health issues – but at least they have a strong ally when it comes to helping these individuals.
Terrace RCMP and Northern Health work together by way of monthly meetings, sharing information and keeping communication open between them.
On average, Terrace RCMP officers spend two to three hours at hospital when they bring someone there for a mental health issue.
Police don’t arrest a person with mental health issues, instead they apprehend the individual, according to the Mental Health Act.
The person is then detained under the Mental Health Act, which is part of B.C. law.
When a patient admitted for mental issues goes missing from hospital, a director’s warrant is issued for that person’s apprehension.
The director is the person in charge of the facility in which the person has been admitted.
And the calls police receive and the number of people they assist with mental health issues is increasing.
In 2012, police had 358 calls regarding mental health issues compared to 394 in 2013.
Of those, 68 were taken to the hospital in 2012 and 57 were returned because of a director’s warrant.
And in 2013, that was 95 to hospital and 86 were director’s warrants.
“We’re definitely trending in the wrong direction,” said Terrace RCMP media relations and community policing Const. Angela Rabut, adding that the increase is a common theme in many places and not just here.
The increase can’t be attributed to an increase in population, said Terrace RCMP operations NCO Staff Sgt. Sydney Lecky.
It can be a few people or even one person causing trouble in many ways, he explained.
For example, one person came to town and had a job, was evicted from several places and several calls were placed to 911 because of her, he said.
Mills Memorial Hospital is one of the few hospitals that can take clients from other places, so much of the increase in people that police come into contact with for mental issues is possibly due to that, said Lecky.
The psychiatry unit at the hospital is secured but there is a patio where patients can go out to get fresh air and people do get out.
Others may not return when let out on a pass and then the police are called to find an AWOL individual.
When police bring a person to the hospital, they will stay with that person until a physician can check that person over, determine if a mental illness is the problem and admit the person.
For each person that can mean police spend two to three hours waiting with the person due to hospital staff being busy.
“The working relationship is pretty awesome,” said Lecky about working with hospital staff. “It’s the best I’ve seen it.”
The healthcare community team leaders meet with RCMP monthly to discuss concerns and that includes leaders from the hospital, Seven Sisters and community mental health and addictions.
Quarterly meetings take place between Terrace RCMP inspector Dana Hart and Chris Sims, health services administrator for Northern Health. It all goes together with one of the policing priorities for the RCMP E Division, which includes the whole province: to find ways to work collaboratively with other agencies.
“We have a strong working relationship with the RCMP and they do come and provide assistance,” said Davey MacLennan, Mills Memorial Hospital area manager for Mental Health and Addictions.
People go AWOL from the hospital sometimes when they’re taken to emergency and they have been assessed and they’ve left.
“They may have to be taken back or if the person manages to leave before being seen by the physician,” he said.
MacLennan added, “We provide a wide range of services for mental health and addictions and within the area, not just in emergency.”
In emergency is the Community Response Personnel, who assess people in the emergency room and do have the opportunity to contact inpatient staff for advice as well and at the time will support them for assessments, he said.
The personnel can provide a brief intake assessment and do a crisis assessment of patients’ behaviour.
They can connect to mental health or addiction issues short-term or consult and give therapeutic interventions and make recommendations to being followed up in the community, he said.
The team can do this work in police cells and in a variety of places as needed.
The community service team has been around for 10 years and MacLellan was one of its first crew members here.
In the time he’s been here, he believes that the number of those accessing mental health services at the hospital hasn’t increased but has been steady,
The demographics and dynamics of the population have changed but that doesn’t seem to have much more of an impact than there ever was, he said.
Always room for improvement
Privacy laws can get in the way of agencies working together with agencies being able to only give out certain information, which can get in the way of getting enough information that police need about a person.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to help people and agencies all have their own privacy legislation,” says Lecky, adding the different privacy policies can be one big obstacle to sharing information.
Agencies have to be cautious with the information they share, even with police.
And we do have to respect people’s rights and privacy especially when it comes to mental health as it can have impacts on people’s lives, said Lecky.
All the agencies have the same goal and they try to share what they can.
For example, police can’t call up to ask about details on a person with schizophrenia or if that person does have a mental illness, but if the person is in police custody showing signs consistent with the illness, then an agency can share a little more and might say that somebody needs to see the person or the person needs to be redirected to them.
“I understand the need for it but at the end of the day, if the goal is to try to help and keep (a person) out of trouble, there’s got to be something done with the legislation.”