British Columbia

Wife who lost husband to suicide wants Interior Health and RCMP crisis response program expanded

Elisha Hamilton has nearly reached her goal of getting 1,000 signatures for a petition she started in support of expanding an emergency response program for mental health and substance use issues in the Interior.

Elisha Hamilton plans to present a petition she started to the provincial government

Hamilton would like to see the operating hours expanded beyond Tuesday to Friday for the Car 40 program in Kamloops. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

Elisha Hamilton has nearly reached her goal of getting 1,000 signatures for a petition she started in support of expanding an emergency response program for mental health and substance use issues in the Interior.

Car 40, launched by the RCMP and Interior Health in 2013, is a program where an officer is partnered with a mental health nurse to respond to crisis situations and assess what is needed to help someone.

However, in some Interior cities, such as Kamloops, the program only operates Tuesday to Friday.

Hamilton lost her husband and the father of her kids to suicide three years ago. She said that if someone from the Car 40 program had been able to respond when she contacted the police for help, they may have been able to get him better support services.

 "Me coupled with the police, we did not do what was needed," she said.

"I did not take it as seriously as I should have, because I didn't have the knowledge of how serious it was. Me and the police, were not the appropriate people to deal with that situation."

Hamilton has almost reached her goal of getting 1,000 signatures for her petition in support of expanding the Car 40 program. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

A few years ago, Hamilton decided to go back to school at Thompson Rivers University for social work and to learn more about mental health.

She started looking into the Car 40 program as part of a school assignment to find a gap in a policy that needs more attention and then decided to start a petition to get it expanded.

Having an RCMP officer and a nurse specially trained in helping people with mental health problems attending to calls could lead to better questions being asked and more fitting plans of action being formed for people like her late husband, Hamilton told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

"Police officers are amazingly brave and they do work that none of us can really do, but they are just trained to de-escalate the situation ...  but they're just not trained to ask the proper questions to provide the proper services."

Her husband was sent to a general practitioner, she said.

Instead, she feels it would be better to have a mental health professional assess how dire a situation is so then a person can be provided with either mental health services, or in more urgent situations, a trip to the emergency room to see a psychiatrist.

Hamilton was advised by an MLA her petition can either be presented by a member of the legislature at the spring session or she can present it to the health minister herself. 

She is still deciding which avenue to take.

Frequently used program, says officer

Const. Kim Lucas with the Kamloops RCMP said she is used as a resource "quite frequently" as a member of the Car 40 program.

"I can certainly say with the requests that we receive from the community, other agencies, clients themselves, that we are required," she said.

Tara Mochizuki, a mental health and substance abuse manager for Interior Health, said it's a "great idea" to try to expand the Car 40 program.

"We're always looking for opportunities for expansion, and I think that a situation like [Hamilton's], which is so very tragic, really brings to light how we need to do things better," said Mochizuki.

Outside of Car 40, there are a "whole suite of services" for mental health offered by Interior Health, she added.

There is also a connections program at the Royal Inland Hospital where people who come to the emergency room can be assessed by either a psychiatric nurse or a social worker with mental health and substance use expertise, she said.

Mochizuki is "hopeful" that Hamilton's expansion request happens, but added she knows there are other areas that need more resources too. 

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text) | (chat).

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), (live chat counselling).

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.

With files from Daybreak Kamloops


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