There's a move in Sudbury to better assist people caught in a mental health crisis —  and keep police officers out of the emergency room.

Currently, police say a lot of time is being taken up by officers who escort and stay with patients at the hospital’s emergency department — effectively making them unable to respond other calls.

Greater Sudbury Police Service responds to mental health calls about twice a day, according to Deputy Chief Al Lekun. And that's something that shouldn’t be left for police to handle, he said.

"The reality is we do not have the expertise to deal with that individual's crisis," Lekun said.

Lekun explained officers will arrest people who are a danger to themselves or someone else. But each time they do so, it takes two officers off the frontline and into the emergency waiting room for several hours. They can't leave until the patient is seen by a doctor or a counsellor.

Help coming

The Local Health Integration Network wants to help change this and has agreed to expand the mental health and addiction service centre in downtown Sudbury. More people will be hired to work in the mobile crisis unit — and the centre will be staffed every day.

"They'll be able to get assessment, support, and treatment at a place they wouldn't otherwise think to go to," said LHIN spokesperson Mike O'Shea.

He said this should divert people away from the emergency room and free up police to respond to other calls.

Reducing the strain on police resources in Sudbury will be a welcome change.

"When we do get to the scene, we can call somebody," said Dan Despatie, a sergeant with Sudbury police.

"There’s going to be more people available to come to the scene, possibly, [to] assist us in triaging that individual [instead of] just bringing [that person] to the hospital and waiting."