CMHA, OPP partner on crisis response teams

Ken Kellar

Two district organizations have teamed up to provide better care to those in need.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, the Rainy River Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Fort Frances Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) signed a memorandum of understanding to officially kick off the Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) in the district.

“Mental health has come to the forefront of concerns in many facets of our day-to-day lives, not only for members of the public, but as an important part of our own total health and well-being,” said Const. Jim Davis, a media relations officer for the Rainy River OPP.

“More often than not, police calls for service have a mental health component that must be addressed to partly resolve the issue that initiated the police to be called. Similarly, the Canadian Mental Health Association is continuously looking for ways to improve provision of service to members of the public and triage the services that are required under various circumstances.”

Both the OPP and CMHA provide beneficial services to those in crisis in the community, with the police answering calls to temporarily solve an issue, and the CMHA working more in depth and providing long-term care.

“There’s an obvious benefit to pairing these resources,” Const. Davis explained.

“To achieve this partnership, community members representing several agencies have met to restructure the local response to crisis Outreach Services and to determine short and intermediate steps to respond to crisis at a local level.”

The agencies will serve as the steering committee for the new MCRT, ensuring that the needs of the community are being met through the program. CMHA crisis response worker Christie Cousineau and the OPP’s community mobilization constable Melinda mills will be working together at the ground level to respond to calls to the police that involve crisis.

“The worker with the person in crisis will address the needs and support the individual and family to get their needs met in the hopes to reduce future crisis,” said CMHA Director of Services Sandy Skirten.

“The primary program goals are to enhance community safety, improve access to services for people with mental illness, addictions and their families, minimize unnecessary transportation to the emergency department, to improve health outcomes and effectiveness of scarce expensive resources. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Rainy River District OPP and look forward to better outcomes for persons in crisis.”

Part of the impetus for establishing the MCRT came from Inspector Nathan Schmidt’s observations when he took over command of the Rainy River Detachment of the OPP and noticed the large percentage of their calls that involved components of mental health and addictions.

“Every day as police officers we see people with mental health and addictions who often get caught up in a cycle of committing crimes, being arrested, attending court, going to jail and being released back into the community, only to repeat the cycle again,” Insp. Schmidt said.

“As police we know we can’t arrest our way out of this situation and we need to consider and try other options. The OPP recognizes that although mental health and addictions are primarily health matters, no one sector or organization can address these complex issues alone, and as such we must all do our part. Whether an individual is an offender, victim, witness or just simply struggling to cope, this new district-wide mobile crisis response team will endeavour to connect people in crisis with appropriate resources.”

Insp. Schmidt noted that pairing up an officer with a crisis worker allows for the person in crisis to receive better and more timely supports, and he thanked the CMHA, as well as other service providers, for the work they already do in the community.

“As we were developing this initiative, it was evident to me that they truly care and are passionate about helping people in crisis,” he noted. “Although the Community Mental Health Association and the OPP are the initiators of this program, we have been receiving support and input from many organizations as this truly needs to be a community led initiative. We look forward to working with the newly formed steering committee that will help identify gaps in services and endeavour to ensure that mental health and addictions needs within the Rainy River District are met.”

While the Inspector acknowledged that there is no good way to provide care to an entire district with a team of two people, it’s important to start the work by forming the team with what the community already has, before reaching out to other organizations and the government for help.

The team is already in place, and has responded to calls. Cousineau noted that there are a few ways that they can respond.

“At any time, the OPP could get a call where they think someone needs crisis assistance, so we could attend with police,” Cousineau said.

“That’s one avenue. There’s also another avenue where the officers may flag something at the time of the call, and they will let Melinda or I know, and we will attend after the fact. I connect them with the community supports we have throughout the district, so whether that means they’re in Atikokan or Rainy River, I look at what the community can offer them and I connect them with those supports with the assistance of the OPP.”

Officer Mills added that they have the option to physically work together to attend a call, but even when they don’t, they are always cooperating and working towards the same goal.

“We’re working together,” she explained.

“Sometimes it’s easier for me to find these individuals or try and figure out how best to locate them. We’re responding to live calls. If a call comes across that there’s somebody that clearly is in crisis that we can be of assistance to right now, we go. We get in a car and go. If it’s something for follow-up later, we do that and just try and work together – my resources and Christie’s resources and put them together and go from there.”

Once contact is made with the person in crisis, Cousineau can then make a referral for that person to whichever service provider is in the best position to help, from addictions to housing and everything in between.

Cousineau and Mills agreed that the program is an efficient way to get help to those in need.

“I think this allows us to have a better partnership and work together instead of operating as two entities,” Cousineau said.

“When someone’s in crisis, a lot of times police respond and my role allows it to maybe have a different outcome than normally would happen.”

“Because as a frontline officer responding to a call, you are limited. You can provide information, but you don’t have the opportunity necessarily for the follow through, whereas this allows us to support that and facilitate that,” Officer Mills added.

“I just think this new partnership allows for an abundance of partnerships throughout the community and throughout the district,” Cousineau concluded.

“We’re working outside of our silos, if you want to call them, and we’re treating in a more holistic approach.”