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CBN towns eager for a mobile mental health team

By Mark Squibb/February 17, 2022

A discussion of the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Response Unit held during January’s meeting of the Conception Bay North Joint Council offered a window into some of the challenges in bringing the service to the region.

The response teams are comprised of mental health and addictions clinicians and police officers who are trained to respond to mental heath and addictions-related calls. The service is currently offered on the Northeast Avalon as well as Holyrood and Bay Bulls.

Harbour Grace councillor Gord Stone said members of the Joint Council recently met with Eastern Health regarding a Mental Heath Mobile Crisis Response Team for CBN, and he hopes a representative from that agency will attend the next joint council session.

Stone said that while Eastern Health faced challenges arranging memorandums of understandings with both the RNC and RCMP, those agreements are now in place. But there are still challenges.

“The formal request to set up the mental health mobile response team doesn’t come through Eastern Health, which is what I had thought before we had the discussion,” Stone said. “It is a political decision and the Eastern Health representatives are responsible for the training. The main participants would be the police presence and the politicians, in terms of putting it into our area.”

Stone said Eastern Health offered a number of recommendations on how to get the service into the region faster.

“There are some key things we need to consider,” said Stone, “and of course, money is the big thing. It’s an expensive piece of business.”

Stone said much of the cost goes towards the team’s staff, including RCMP members, and that if the region can show politicians that they need the service and can cover the police’s cost, they would have better luck getting it.

That lead to a discussion among the various town representatives about who actually takes ownership of the service and provides oversight, whether it’s the RCMP or Eastern Health, or the Joint Council or provincial government.

Bay Roberts Mayor Walter Yetman and Carbonear councilor Daniele Doyle expressed surprise that Eastern Health doesn’t take full ownership of the service, and that a great part of the burden seems to rest on the RCMP.

It was also noted that some Eastern Health representatives had indicated the area may not be large enough to warrant a full mobile crisis team of its own, suggesting two specially trained officers could respond to mental health and addictions calls instead. The members disagreed with that arguing CBN is large enough and full service is warranted.

Harbour Main MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer, who was in attendance for the Joint Council meeting, added her thoughts to the mix.

“It would be pretty easy, I would think, to find out the details of who would have ownership of it,” said Ottenheimer, noting the service is already offered in other jurisdictions. “I believe that this is something that, although it appears, and has already been stated, is expensive, I believe, especially in these times, that mental health is perhaps the biggest issue that has come out of the pandemic. So, this certainly is an initiative that I would support one hundred percent, and do whatever I can to advocate, as the critic for Justice and Public Safety.”

Ottenheimer found it unusual that the service doesn’t fall under the purview of the Department of Health, arguing it is vital to the region.

“I think we need clarification on that, but whoever it’s under, I think we need clarification on that,” said Ottenheimer.

Tina Neary, who chairs the Municipal Mental Health Task Force and is a Portugal Cove- St. Philips town councilor, said she was alarmed that an area could be considered not large enough for full mobile services.

“Just because you live beyond the overpass does not mean you should not be viewed just as important as anybody else, so it’s shocking to me that if I live downtown on Water Street, I’m going to get the services required, but if I live in one of the towns present here this evening, we have to fight hard for somebody to recognise that this is needed,” said Neary.

Carbonear councilor Chris O’Grady, admitting to playing the devil’s advocate, said that having worked for Eastern Health and ‘running the numbers,’ he understands the hesitancy.

“Eastern Health is struggling to keep what they have,” said O’Grady. “Especially now in the middle of a pandemic, I can see their hesitancy at this point and not wanting to do it. It’s a great service, and I would love to see it myself, but that’s probably where they’re coming from, if they were here speaking.”

Eventually the Joint Council members agreed to look further into the matter before sending a letter to the Department of Justice expressing a need for the Mobile Crisis Unit for CBN.

“While I think it’s a great initiative and a great idea, I also think that it’s a band-aid solution to a much, much, much, much bigger societal problem,” said councillor Doyle. “I teach in a high school (Carbonear Collegiate) and our high schools don’t have social workers. Our high schools don’t have access to mental health experts. We have an increase of a guidance councillor right now due to COVID, but with the changes in family structures, and drugs on the streets, and the access to all of this stuff for kids, while I think it’s a great idea, I think there’s lots of work that could be done in other areas as well.”

She recommended the joint council do more to promote anti-drug and anti-violence programs.

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