New Local Project Pairs Police with Psychologists

Pilot project pairs off officers and doctors for mental health calls 

A new startup project in Thunder Bay has recently been given the go-ahead by City Council earlier in March 2018. The project will see mental health officials and the Thunder Bay Police Department joining forces to work more closely during mental health-related calls.

“The project is the development and launch of a Joint Mobile Crisis Response model for the city of Thunder Bay, in partnership with the Thunder Bay Police Services, Canadian Mental Health Association, Thunder Bay Police Services, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Center, and the Local Health Integration Network,” explains Dr. Peter Voros.Dr. Voros works as the Psychologist and Director of Adult and Forensic Mental Health at the TBRHSC, and has taken a leading role in this pilot project. “This partner approach will pair an experienced mental health worker with a uniformed police officer to respond and assess the needs of the person; ensuring individuals get the right care, at the right place and at the right time.”

This project has been in the works for quite awhile now. According to Dr. Voros, the Chief of Police “approached the NWLHIN and identified the need based on data identifying high volume of mental health related calls and long wait times at the ED at TBRHSC [so] the project planning began to better support the mental health needs, service gaps, and inefficiency that exist in Thunder Bay.” The aim of the project is to reduce these long wait times and inefficiencies by including the mental rehabilitation process within the criminal investigative process.

As it stands, police officers do not have the power to refer people with mental illnesses to mental health professionals during their emergency calls, and as a result, thesepeople must be taken to the hospital. “It is anticipated that this new approach would see a shift in volume to more community based resources and away from unnecessary ED visits,” Dr. Voros says.

This type of health and safety program has been utilized in other communities around the province with great effect. “A review of provincial models of joint response between Crisis response programs and police show significant benefits to the health system and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis,” continues Dr. Voros. “Other projects such as the COAST model in Hamilton and Community Crisis Intervention services in Sudbury have seen a significant decrease in ED wait times as well a decrease in apprehension rates by police officers.”

Overall, the project appears to be an excellent step forward in the realm of mental health, including the tolerance, awareness, and de-stigmatization of mental illnesses in Thunder Bay. When inquired as to the project’s promising future, Lakehead University’s own Dr. Amanda Maranzan comments: “I hope that this project will result in the right help at the right time for people who are in distress. I also hope this project will be useful to the responding officers, who are tasked with the often difficult job of responding to mental health-related calls.”