Manitoba puts $450K toward app to help RCMP navigate mental health emergency calls

The provincial government is putting nearly half a million dollars toward an existing app for police that it says will help RCMP better navigate mental health emergency calls.

HealthIM already in use by police in Winnipeg, Brandon; software guides police through crisis scenarios

The app, called HealthIM, lists several different indicators and will recommend the best course of action to get the person in distress the help they need. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The provincial government is putting nearly half a million dollars toward an existing app for police that it says will help RCMP better navigate mental health emergency calls.

Manitoba Justice announced Thursday it will funnel more than $450,000 from the federal proceeds of crime fund toward HealthIM, a system already in use by some police forces in the province responding to people experiencing psychological crises.

Police are often the first to arrive at such calls, and the app provides risk-assessment advice to officers on mobile devices or in squad cars that helps improve outcomes, said Manitoba's justice minister.

"This system supports a more empathetic and evidence-based response to citizens suffering from unmanaged mental health challenges and protects the public, medical staff and the person in crisis," Cliff Cullen said in a statement.

The new funding will help get all Manitoba RCMP detachments connected.

HealthIM has been in use by eight police forces in Manitoba, including in Winnipeg, Brandon and on First Nations, since last summer.

It was also piloted in three RCMP detachment areas, including Steinbach, the Central Plains detachment (which includes Portage la Prairie, Treherne and Amaranth) and Thompson, along with eight First Nations around Thompson.

A review found of the 4,087 mental health calls where HealthIM was used between July 2019 and last month, early half of all calls involved people between the ages of 18 and 30. Women made up more than half of the calls, about 14 per cent were youth under 18, and a quarter of calls were linked to alcohol use. One-tenth of calls involved someone who was behaving violently.

The use of the app also saved an estimated $841,000 in costs, the report states, due to significant drops in involuntary apprehension rates and the average time police spent waiting in hospitals with people in distress.

The app guides officers through a number of questions to help them gauge behaviours or actions of the person at the centre of the emergency call. The app then gives recommendations about what the officer should do, including connecting the person to community-based resources or taking them to hospital.

 HealthIM also alerts police to risks prior to coming in contact with the individual.

The app is meant to help lower the risk that people in crisis harm themselves or others, the province said, as well as to decrease the frequency and time police spend in contact with people in crisis.

The HealthIM app allows police to connect with the regional health centres, where staff there are given notice of police situations so they can better prepare for a person officers may bring in needing attention. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The deputy chief of the Winnipeg Police Service said HealthIM helps officers make better decisions focused on the person in crisis and providing them with the most appropriate care. 

"Having that factual information at your fingertips really helps aid that conversation," said Gord Perrier.

HealthIM also provides insight and accountability in real-time situations, he said. The app documents the decisions and observations police make at scenes and helps track individual officers' outcomes.

"This tool also is bit of a safety net," Perrier said. "It ensures that … maybe a mistake isn't made, that somebody interpreted something the wrong way, maybe didn't make apprehension when they should have."

The commanding officer for Manitoba RCMP said HealthIM is already supporting officers who are attempting to de-escalate volatile encounters.

"This additional funding will ensure that more of our officers will have access to HealthIM to help them better handle these difficult calls for service," Jane MacLatchy, who is also assistant commissioner, said in a statement.

Manitoba Justice said the expansion of the app will make Manitoba the first to have HealthIM in use by police across a province.

HealthIM results:

  • People in the 18 to 30 age group were involved in the largest percentage of calls — 42 per cent.
  • 14 per cent of calls involved youth (under 18).
  • 28 per cent of calls involved people who had considered suicide within the 30 days before the call.
  • 54 per cent of calls involved women and 46 per cent involved men. There were no documented instances involving gender non-confirming people, listed as "other" in the report.
  • 10 per cent of calls involved people who were homeless.
  • 23 per cent of calls involved people who had been intoxicated within the previous 24 hours.
  • The largest category of intoxicant calls — 22 per cent — involved alcohol consumption, followed by meth (six per cent) and cannabis (five per cent).
  • Nine per cent of calls involved someone exhibiting violent behaviour within 24 hours before the call.
  • 14 per cent of calls involved people known to carry weapons
  • Involuntarily apprehension decreased from a rate of around 67 per cent to 29 per cent during the first year.
  • Police hospital wait times went from 4½ hours to about one one hour and 20 minutes.

With files from Peggy Lam


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.