Thunder Bay

Progam pairing police officers, mental health workers seeks permanent funding for 24/7 service

While a number of Canadian cities grapple with who should be responding to mental health calls after recent instances of police shooting the people they came to help, the Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB) is throwing its support behind the Joint Mobile Crisis Response team initiative.

Thunder Bay Police Services Board passes resolution for stable funding of Joint Mobile Crisis Response Team

The Thunder Bay Police Services Board passed a resolution at its Tuesday meeting, calling on the Local Health Integration Network to provide permanent funding so the Joint Mobile Crisis Response Team can operate on a 24/7 basis. (Catherine Alex/CBC)

While a number of Canadian cities grapple with who should be responding to mental health calls after recent instances of police shooting the people they came to help, the Thunder Bay Police Services Board (TBPSB) is throwing its support behind the Joint Mobile Crisis Response team initiative.

The initiative pairs officers and mental health workers, who respond together to mental health calls in the northwestern Ontario city.

"This is certainly a step in the right direction," said Dr. Kyle Landsdell, a TBPSB member and an emergency room physician at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

"The overwhelming nature of mental health needs in our community, and how often those are involving police, and how limited the police are in their ability to respond to such events and potentially defuse and divert these events from the emergency department is an ongoing challenge that I see everyday," he said.

The program, which began as a pilot project in June 2018, is a partnership between the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and the Canadian Mental Health Association. It has quickly shown its worth.

Between June 2018 and August 2019, the team answered 1,500 calls for service.

The TBPS would like to see the arrangement become a permanent one, but at present "we continue forward with the current model we have in place, which is only $300,000, which is very limited funding for what CMHA can do. Therefore we're still on part-time hours, which means they work 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.," said police chief Sylvie Hauth.

"The capacity could be greatly expanded should we be able to confirm, once and for all, it is permanent."

She noted that the conversations are still "ongoing" between the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and the Thunder Bay branch of the CMHA with respect to consistent funding for the initiative.

"I think there's been verbal confirmation that it would be actualized, the permanent funding, but I don't think I've received a letter that says we're on the books and we're good to go."

Permanent funding 'a service' to the community

During the monthly meeting of the TBPSB on Tuesday, the group passed a resolution calling on the LHIN to provide the team with stable, permanent funding so it can become a 24/7 service.

Hauth said the resolution, and its request for clarification and action would be very "beneficial".

"If we can be proactive in engaging the LHINs and the government in further funding and discussions to alleviate some of the pressure on police, I think we're doing this community a service," said Kristen Oliver, a Thunder Bay city councillor and a member of the TBPSB.

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