Manitoba

Winkler bills Southern Health $19K to cover 6 days of security for mental health patient

The City of Winkler has sent a $19,000 bill to the Southern Health regional health authority, the cost of devoting two police officers to watching a mental health patient 24 hours a day for six days.

Security at health facilities has become a burden on small-town police forces: mayor

Winkler police devoted two officers to supervising a mental health patient at Boundary Trails Health Centre 24 hours a day for six days. (Google Street View)

The City of Winkler has sent a $19,000 bill to the Southern Health regional health authority, the cost of devoting two police officers to watching a mental health patient 24 hours a day for six days.

"We have a Winkler police force paid for by the citizens of Winkler, and we simply cannot afford to absorb a $19,000 for six days of work," Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said Friday morning. "So we sent them a bill."

The incident in February was the final straw in an ongoing problem with officers from the small city's police force devoting too much time to security at the Boundary Trails Health Centre, just east of Winkler, Harder said.

And it's not just a problem in Winkler, he said. Other small municipalities struggle with the same issue, so Winkler and East St. Paul will be co-sponsoring a resolution at the next Association of Manitoba Municipalities meeting that deals with how to transfer patients from police departments to medical facilities.

The Manitoba Mental Health Act says when a police officer takes a person into custody for an involuntary medical examination, police "or a qualified person" must remain with the person until an assessment is done, the person is admitted or the person doing the examination says it's not necessary.

The resolution Winkler and East St. Paul are co-sponsoring calls on the province to "expedite implementation of 'qualified persons' at health-care facilities" and "provide a safe and secure area at a health-care facility for persons in custody while awaiting examination and/or assessment."

'We can't do this'

In the February case, Boundary Trails Health Centre didn't have the capacity to assess the patient, so police had to maintain custody, Harder said.

Security at health facilities has been a problem for years, he said.

At one time, Winkler police even were being called to help deal with unco-operative patients at the Eden Health Centre, Harder said.

"Our police officers came back to the city and said, 'You know, we can't do this. We're not going there to arrest anybody, we're just helping somebody move somebody into a secure room, and it's not within our job description.' "

The city decided to stop providing that help and police started only going to health facilities for emergencies, which they still do — but it's become too big a problem for a small police force to handle, Harder said.

Winkler Mayor Martin Harder says small municipalities shouldn't be saddled with health facilities' security costs. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Regional health authorities are provincially run, Harder said — the Boundary Trails Health Centre isn't even within Winkler's city limits — and the Winkler Police Service's full staff complement is only 23 people, including office workers and the chief.

There are only 13 full constables on the force; Winkler, about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, had a population of just under 12,600 in 2016.

"The thing is, the RHA is a provincial organization. It is not funded by local taxpayers," Harder said. "We felt that that just wasn't fair, for us to absorb the costs of doing this."

Safety review ordered

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said he knows security at health-care facilities is a continuing problem and his ministry has been working on it.

"We are listening and we are acting," he told the CBC early Friday afternoon.

Friesen announced a safety and security review of all Manitoba health-care facilities in March, and a bill introduced in the legislature in April tackles the issue directly by creating a new type of security officers for places such as hospitals, he said. When proclaimed, it will give institutional security officers the authority to enforce provincial laws when the security of people and property are at risk.

"The response in the past to these things has been ad hoc and incremental," he said. "There are no provincial standards existing to guide what you do to put security at health-care facilities."

It's important that health-care practices deal with new challenges at emergency departments, including methamphetamine-related care, he said.

"It's not just the handoff of the person from police or RCMP to the authority and control of the hospital. It's also what is the clinical care that is being undertaken in those places."

I made sure that there was an urgency attached to finding solutions- Health Minister Cameron Friesen

But Winkler and the Boundary Trails Health Centre won't have to wait for the security review to be complete, Cameron said.

"Southern Health-Sante Sud is very near now to getting some kind of provision of care in place," said Friesen, who is also the MLA for Morden-Winkler.

"I made sure that there was an urgency attached to finding solutions."

A regional health authority spokesperson said they have talked with members of Winkler city council about hospital security, and said the provincial review of safety and security at health-care facilities is expected to help.

"The expert recommendations of this security review will help Southern Health-Santé Sud find new and better ways of mitigating the risk and severity of safety incidents," an emailed statement from the health authority says.

"Additionally, the region is reviewing possible provisional options which could be implemented to mitigate immediate risks."

Harder acknowledged the provincial government has been working on the file, and said the City of Winkler and the health authority are meeting about the problem later this month.

Nevertheless, Winkler city council still plans to take their resolution about the problem to the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and they will continue to push for a wider solution.

The bill to the health authority was the result of "years of neglect and refusal to do anything" about the security issue, he said.

"The security issue has been brought up for years. We've had meetings for years and it simply hadn't been dealt with," Harder said.

"It is not the City of Winkler's responsibility to pay for the RHA [regional health authority] lack of investment with its security."

Corrections

  • We initially reported that Winkler had a population of 30,000 in 2016. In fact, Winkler's population was just under 12,600 in 2016, Statistics Canada says.
    May 03, 2019 10:48 AM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lara Schroeder

Copy editor

Lara Schroeder is an online copy editor for CBC Manitoba who dabbles in writing and radio. She started her career as a reporter at small-town community newspapers, but her English degree and habits nurtured by her English teacher dad and grammatically meticulous mom steered her toward editing. Her many jobs have included editing at the Toronto Star, the National Post, the Toronto Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson

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