Mental health workers moving in with Waterloo regional police

A partnership between Waterloo regional police officers and community mental health workers is paying off, according to an update from the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo-Wellington.

Integrated teams in other regions are diverting 75 to 80 per cent of calls away from hospital

Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo-Wellington community mental health workers have moved into two police division offices to attend calls that involve a person in mental crisis and help police assess the individual's stability and needs. (Google Street View)

A partnership between Waterloo regional police officers and community mental health workers is paying off, according to an update from the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo-Wellington. 

When integrated teams of police and mental health workers responded to emergency calls, almost 75 per cent of those calls did not result in a visit to hospital the association's executive director Helen Fishburn told members of the police services board on July 11.

The integrated teams — known as integrated mobile police and crisis teams, or IMPACT — have been operating in Wellington county since 2015 and in Guelph since 2016. 

The IMPACT model

With the IMPACT model, mental health workers are stationed at police detachments. They go out on emergency calls that involve a person in mental crisis and help police assess the individual's stability and needs.

A similar model has been used in Waterloo region since 2013, where police and mental health workers responded to emergencies independently.

Then, in June, CMHA staff officially moved into south and central division offices. There are plans to move into north division in late July or early August.   

Benefits of being integrated

Brooke Young, CMHA W-W director of services, said Waterloo regional police were "gung-ho" about the new IMPACT model, because they had seen how it improved policing in Wellington County and Guelph.

"What we're able to do is bring a level of knowledge and expertise around mental health — safety planning, assessments, de-escalation — that supports officers to make sure that people are safer in the community so that we don't have to take everyone to the hospital," Young said.

There's a significant number of calls that we're not being called to or we're not available to be called to.- Brooke Young, CMHA W-W

In a repeat of Fishburn's message to board members, Young told CBC News that, on average, IMPACT teams are diverting 75 to 80 per cent of calls away from hospital. 

"What that tells us is there's lots of folks in the community that just need an additional level of support," she said.

"When we're able to provide that, they actually don't need to go [to hospital], and we're helping to reduce the backlog of folks in our local [emergency rooms]."

Need for more resources

Even though Young said the teams have been a huge success, she also said they could be doing more if they had more staff. 

She said CMHA W-W and police have started collecting data to get a better sense of how many mental health-related calls the IMPACT teams are missing, either because they are out on another call or because the call comes in at night, when the team doesn't work. 

Based on anecdotal evidence, Young said they are missing about two to three calls a day.

"There's a significant number of calls that we're not being called to or we're not available to be called to," she said. "If we had some additional resources, it certainly could help us also divert more people from [emergency]."

She estimated the teams could use at least double the number of staff they have now to meet the demand for service. 

About the Author

Melanie Ferrier

Melanie Ferrier is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in Kitchener, Ont. You can email her at melanie.ferrier@cbc.ca.