Hundreds of mental health emergencies diverted from Vancouver police

Opinion: A new project placing psychiatric nurses within the Vancouver Police Department has resulted in 754 emergency calls being diverted “to a more appropriate non-police response.”

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Placing psychiatric nurses within the Vancouver Police Department’s operations center has dramatically reduced the number of times “a cop with a gun” was sent to a mental health emergency.

Since last June, Vancouver Coastal Health has been assigning nurses to the center where police answer 911 calls with the task of triaging mental health emergencies.

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Since then, nurses have responded to 1,372 mental health emergency calls and 743 of them, or 54 percent, were resolved by the nurse or diverted to “more appropriate” healthcare-based responses so that police were not necessary. , Bonnie Wilson. Vancouver Coastal Health’s director of community operations told city council on Tuesday.

A lot of time has passed.

A little over a decade ago, Vancouver’s then-police chief stood alongside the then-mayor and memorably declared that mental illness on the city’s streets was getting worse and needed the province’s help.

“The answer for someone suffering a mental health crisis is not a police officer with a gun,” then VPD chief Jim Chu told reporters at a 2013 news conference, when the two came together to ask the provincial government to step up to help the city and its police deal with the crisis.

It seems that Vancouver got tired of waiting for the province.

On Tuesday, the council heard some of the first results of its decision to have the city, for the first time, provide municipal funding to hire nurses to join police in the mental health response. In particular, health officials, police leaders, politicians and city staff praise one part of that decision: assigning psychiatric nurses to the call center.

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“We have some great examples of how that nurse was able to look up the person’s medical history, know that they were attached to a community team, and arrange for that team to come out the next day to visit them; all of which diverted a police response,” Wilson said.

“We were also able to resolve some issues and reduce tension over the phone with individual people. “We are very excited with the first results.”

This work stems from one of the biggest promises of Vancouver’s 2022 election campaign: ABC Vancouver’s promise to hire 100 additional police officers and 100 mental health nurses to improve public safety in the city.

The pledge appeared to resonate with many Vancouver voters, at a time when the city, like many others in North America, was grappling with concerns about public disorder, mental illness and crime stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABC Vancouver came to power and quickly acted to begin increasing the police budget and allocating money for nurses.

The police department is a critical municipal responsibility and officer hires occurred quickly. Nurse hiring has been slower: Tuesday’s update showed VCH has so far filled 16.5 full-time equivalent positions through this city funding stream, another 19.5 positions are in the process of being hired, and There are plans to hire another. 22, for a total of 58 hires.

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But Wilson said Tuesday that VCH is going through “a pretty typical hiring and ramp-up process” and “is not concerned at all about the pace.”

“We get asked a lot about this, why haven’t we hired all the people yet?” Wilson said. “We are implementing a phased approach to hiring; this is really a standard that we use in the health system.”

Wilson read to council a statement prepared by a director of VCH’s Indigenous health team, which said: “What we are trying to do here at VCH has never been done before in any health authority in the province of British Columbia or nationally.” throughout Canada.”

The city does not employ nurses, so these hires are not included in the city budget but are funded through a $4.67 million city operating grant to VCH. The Council approved the requested grant unanimously on Tuesday. Added to the remaining grant money approved last year, this brings the city’s total funding for the program to $6.85 million by 2024.

A municipal government sending millions in grants “upstream” to a provincially funded health authority is not a typical arrangement.

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That topic came up several times during Tuesday’s meeting.

Ideally, ABC Count. Rebecca Bligh said the success of the program will eventually make it undeniable that the provincial Ministry of Health will begin footing the bill.

Wilson chimed in: “Proof of concept.”

“Proof of concept, right,” Bligh responded. “I’m going to ask you a really tough question: When is that going to happen?”

Answering that difficult question, Bob Chapman, vice-president of Vancouver Coastal Health, responded that the province is closely monitoring the program in Vancouver and spending more in response to mental health.

“I think there’s a change happening,” Chapman said.

Other municipalities across Canada are watching with interest what happens in Vancouver, councilors said.

“This is exactly what the public has been waiting for for so long,” ABC Coun said. Lisa Dominato. “Vancouver is an incubator municipality and potentially this could be scalable and replicable in other municipalities, so we will have conversations with the province about potentially loading those costs in the future.”

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Speaking after Tuesday’s council meeting, VPD Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson said the number of police mental health call diversions was “incredible news,” not only for police resources, but also for providing better serve community members who need help.

“If we can get to a point where it is recognized that police are not needed and there is an alternative response that is more appropriate, then we will get through this,” he said. “That’s something we greatly support.”

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