Police and Mental Health Working Together: Luke’s Story
Patty felt frightened and didn’t know where to turn. It was a hot night in July and her husband, Luke, was angry and talking about wanting to kill himself. Patty felt concerned for his safety and that of her two teenage children: Mike and Lana. So she called 911. Within minutes, police officers arrived at the residence along with a mental health nurse, who is part of the Specialized Crisis Team (SCT).
The mental health nurse, Rosa, quickly assessed the situation. Her first priority was to make sure the children were okay and felt safe. Then she talked to Luke to calm him down. Once she and the officers were satisfied there was no immediate danger to the family, Rosa took charge of the situation so the police officers could be freed to take other emergency calls.
Rosa continued to talk with Patty and Luke. Together, they created a safety plan that would get the family through the rest of the night and into the next day.
Rosa learned that Luke was a truck driver and had developed a fear of crashing his truck. The fear had become so debilitating that it prevented him from working. Patty was seasonally employed so there was no steady income. This meant that the family’s financial situation had become dire. They were behind in their bills and were facing eviction from their home. Food was scarce and the family was in poor health. The situation had become unbearable to Luke. He felt taking his own life was the only answer.
The next day, Rosa connected the family to a mental health coordinator. She worked with Luke to arrange an appointment with a psychiatrist to help him cope with his mental health concerns and anxiety around crashing his truck.
The support coordinator recognized that Luke and his family needed more health and social supports to manage Luke’s health needs. The family did not have a primary care physician so the support coordinator connected the family with a Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic to manage their care going forward.
The support coordinator also worked with Patty and the children to have them referred to a children’s mental health program to address some of their own mental health concerns. Patty and Luke also received the help they needed to apply for funding from the Ontario Disability Support Program to help their family cope financially while Luke received the care and treatment he needed to get better.
“I think what makes the SCT program so successful is its approach to supporting people with mental health challenges,” says Carmen Abel, Co-Chair at the steering committee for SCT. “Instead of people like Luke ending up in an emergency department, jail or worse, he is able to receive immediate support and is connected to the resources he needs. It’s a much better outcome for Luke and for the health system.”
Today, Patty, Luke, Mike and Lana are doing much better. The wrap around care from the Specialized Mobile Crisis Team initiative gave them the health care and social assistance they needed.
It began several years ago when the Waterloo Wellington LHIN asked a local chief of police:
“What’s the one thing we could do to help the police?”
His answer was simply:
“Put mental health nurses in my cars.”
In response to that request, the Waterloo Wellington LHIN Board of Directors invested in an exciting new partnership with the Waterloo Regional Police Service and the local Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA-WWD) to create a Specialized Mobile Crisis Team (SCT). The program works like this: addictions and mental health experts join police officers responding to emergency calls and provide support or referrals on the spot. As a result, unnecessary emergency department visits are prevented, police are spending less time on calls, residents struggling with addictions or mental health issues are getting better care faster and these residents are less likely to find themselves in conflict with the law.
In October 2014, the Waterloo Wellington LHIN Board of Directors decided to expand the program into both the City of Guelph and in Wellington County through the Ontario Provincial Police. With this investment, the new initiative, called Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Teams or IMPaCT, was rolled out. Now residents across the Waterloo Wellington LHIN will have access to a joint partnership with police and mental health professionals to provide more clinically informed care, resulting in fewer trips to the Emergency Department, and better outcomes for people in crisis.