Manitoba freeing up police from overseeing patients at hospital
New amendment will let police transfer care of patients to trained persons at health-care facilities
Fewer police officers in Manitoba will have to watch over patients while they wait for care at a hospital.
In a change to the Mental Health Act that comes into force on Saturday, police officers will be able to transfer the custody of persons awaiting an involuntary medical examination or psychiatric assessment to a qualified person who has received training.
"What we had in Manitoba too often were instances where RCMP and police were escorting someone who was detained to a emergency department for assessment, but they had to remain with the individual," Health Minister Cameron Friesen told reporters on Thursday.
He said the change would ensure police won't have to stay at a health-care facility indefinitely.
Security, front-line staff trained
The practice begins this weekend at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, Selkirk Hospital and Brandon Regional Health Centre. It will be expanded to other health-care facilities in the future, the government said.
The legislation was amended three years ago, but the government held off until enough people were trained.
"We are now satisfied that training is adequate, that the complement of people who've received that training can now be in place to provide the service uninterrupted," Friesen said.
So far, the training has been provided to security officers, front-line workers and other staff at the three hospitals.
Police officers in some communities already receive help with patients experiencing mental distress or have a propensity for violence. Winnipeg Police Service cadets, along with First Nation safety officers and community safety officers, have been known to help, a news release said.
RCMP members have spent an average of 11,000 hours a year waiting at hospitals, said Rob Hill, chief superintendent in charge of criminal operations. He said that's the equivalent of seven full-time members who would be better off on the front lines.
Currently, a police officer must wait with a patient until the medical examination or psychiatric assessment is completed, the person is admitted or a physician determines the officer isn't needed.
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, sympathizes with police officers who are stretched thin, but said nurses shouldn't assume more responsibility when they're already overworked.
"This change confuses the role of nurses and other health care providers with that of police and security guards, and it puts patients and health care providers alike at increased risk of violence," Jackson said in a statement.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union argued that health-care providers shouldn't focus on security.
"We're still waiting for the government to implement the real solution, giving hospital security officers the authority they need to keep patients, health care workers and themselves safe," it said in a statement.