Pilot project teaming police, psychiatrists made permanent

A pilot project, meant in part to help Ottawa police avoid using force, is being made into a permanant program.

Program determined to be beneficial for hospitals, patients, police

In January, we reported on a police pilot project where a psychiatrist rides along to help with mental health call. Now that program will be permanent and they're hoping to expand. 2:19

A pilot project, meant in part to help Ottawa police avoid using force, is being made into a permanent program.

The program teams up an officer with a psychiatrist, who can assess the mental health of people in their own home when responding to 911 calls.

The project is aimed at reducing the number of calls to police that result in people with mental-health issues either being sent to emergency rooms or being arrested.

The team was made up of one psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Boyles, and two medical residents who worked and rode along with four officers with the Ottawa police mental health unit.

The Ottawa Hospital and Ottawa Police Service began the one-year pilot project in July 2012 to test whether having a doctor on site would improve situations where police handle mental health issues and whether it would help streamline the process of getting help for patients.

The program has been determined to be beneficial for hospitals, patients and police.

Const. Stephan Quesnel, left, and Dr. Peter Boyles, right, team up to help improve police response to calls involving mental health concerns. (CBC)

Over the past year Boyles has been on duty three nights a week with police and has responded to hundreds of calls.

Of the 250 911 calls or follow-up visits during the pilot project, Boyles gave 50 people mental health certificates, which means they were involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward of the hospital.

Another 90 people were assessed and not certified, meaning the psychiatrist determined they did not suffer from any major mental illness.

Beneficial for all involved

"The doctor's able to make sure we're not bringing in the wrong people," said Staff Sgt. Dana Reynolds.

"So families and patients are receiving the best care in their own homes and in their own environments, where they have support," said Reynolds.

By avoiding unnecessary trips to hospitals, the program has already saved police and hospital staff many hours of time.

"Hospitals benefit because this is nursing staff, social work staff, doctors who have to spend time seeing the patient. And the police certainly benefit because when police bring people to hospital they end up waiting possibly for hours before a decision is made and the police have to stay with the patient, particularly if there is a safety concern," said Boyles.

In addition to the program being made permanent, Boyles hopes to expand it beyond the three nights a week it currently runs.

The final numbers on the pilot project will be released this fall.