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‘Demand would not be high enough’, for CBN mobile crisis response team

By Mark Squibb/June 30, 2022

Members of the Eastern Health Mobile Crisis Response Team (CRT) were in attendance at last month’s Conception Bay North Joint Council Meeting.

Maureen Moores, Program Manager, and Jaspen Barker, Regional Coordinator, spoke to council members of the crisis team’s structure and many benefits.

“The mobile response team is based on the Memphis Model, which is a worldwide model developed in Memphis which basically pairs police officers with clinicians, whether they’re nurses or social workers or psychiatrists, LPNS, because the police realized they were being called to a lot of things that were mental health issues, not policing issues,” explained Moores. “And the goal is to take the police out of mental health.”

Police, said Moores, are on scene to support health care workers, but are not themselves the primary responders.

“The purpose of the team is that you get the right response at the right time,” she said.

“The police that work with us all receive CIT, which is Crisis Intervention Training,” Moores added. Police in metro receive 40 hours of training. Two hundred and seventy RNC officers have been trained, but the goal is to train every officer in the province.”

The mobile team can do full psychiatric assessment, stabilise patients, provide support and education tools, and do follow ups if necessary.

“One of the great things about our service is that we’re able to meet with people where they’re at,” said Barker. “So, if someone wanted to meet in the community, or at their home, or with a family member, we are able to meet them where they are.”

But there are some situations that the mobile crisis team is not equipped to handle.

Emergency situations, such as when an individual has harmed himself and needs immediate medical attention, would be handled by emergency personnel, not the crisis team.

The crisis team also cannot taxi folks to the hospitals.

“We were getting a lot of requests from individuals calling in saying, ‘I need a ride to the hospital,” said Barker. “We just don’t have the availability to be able to meet that demand for transportation. If our team goes there and accesses somebody and determines that they need to go to the hospital, and they’re voluntary, we can certainly transport, but if that is their main request, that is a service that we don’t provide.”

Staff also cannot administer medication or make changes to a patient’s medication.

Responding to situations involving drugs and alcohol is a grey area, admitted Barker.

“If someone is notably impaired, and we really stress the word ‘notably,’ by alcohol or drugs, we cannot respond,” said Barker. “So, if someone is significantly under the influence, we cannot go into access the individual.”

If someone has had a drink or two and there are no immediate risks, the team can respond.

Another thing the crisis team cannot do, according to the representatives, is operate within Conception Bay North.

“The demand would not be high enough,” said Moores, who said that running the CRT requires “a lot of staff and a lot of money.”

It was not what members of the Conception Bay North Joint Council, who have been petitioning for a Mental Health Mobile Crisis Unit to be placed in their region for months, had wanted to hear.

Harbour Main MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer applauded the work done by the team, and asked how the group had determined demand outside the metro area was not high enough to support a CRT.

Moores said the determination was based on the number of mental health calls made to police.

“Even if you got two calls a day, are you going to pay a full-time police officer and a full-time social worker or nurse?” said Moores. “The numbers didn’t warrant it in other areas.”

Physical logistics of space between communities also played a role.

“Part of the mobile response is the drive,” said Moores. “So, like when we have to mobile from Holyrood, and we’re way down in Pouch Cove, the drive is 40 minutes. Then the intervention is an hour.”

Members of the joint council argued that mental health issues are often underreported, and that if the mobile crisis team were to operate in the region, they may be able to assist those who are not yet in a situation where they feel the need to call the police or emergency professionals.

Moores said that in some regions, such as Gander, Grand falls, or Goose Bay, health care workers, if available, attend situations with police through an agreement between health care professionals and the RCMP.

In lieu of the mobile crisis team, representatives suggested that communities could work with other government mental heath resources in their area or petition hospital staff to work with police on mental health calls.

The discussion lasted nearly on an hour, with council members deciding to carry on the fight and to reach out once again to the RCMP and Eastern Health.

“It’s obviously a wonderful resource,” said Rod Delaney of Cupids. “That’s why we wished we had it.”

Teams are based in St. John’s, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook, Labrador City, and Happy Valle-Goose Bay.

The metro team covers St. John’s, Mount Pearl, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Torbay, Bay Bulls, and Holyrood.

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