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Taking aim at mental health crisis response in Williams Lake

Williams Lake Tribune - 1/24/2024

Williams Lake will be one of four communities in Interior Health (IH) to host a new pilot program to help better respond to mental health crises with a "trauma-informed approach."

The program is a partnership between RCMP and IH and is called an Integrated Crisis Response Liaison Team. The "team" in this case refers to having a dedicated mental health nurse or mental health clinician who will work "hand in hand" with the RCMP to manage calls which are outside of RCMP scope, meaning not criminal but more medical-related.

"We are excited to partner with the RCMP to bring additional resources to Williams Lake to collaboratively support individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis," stated Katlyn-Grace Matuschewski, Manager, Clinical Operations, Mental Health and Substance Use Williams Lake via email.

Inspector Robert Lake, head of the Williams Lake RCMP detachment, said RCMP want to ensure they are focussing their resources on the right things —namely ensuring public safety.

"We need to look at an alternate approach to these situations," he said, noting the public understands RCMP attend a lot of calls which are more medical in nature.

Lake said the RCMP would draw on the expertise of the mental health workers to assist with calls, help at the detachment or streamline processes to respect the dignity of the individual. This could help avoid long wait times in emergency rooms for those in mental health crisis.

"A person dealing with a medical distress issue doesn't need to be dealt with in a way which would reduce their dignity or create a stigma by having police officers stand with them in an emergency room," explained Lake.

He said the goal is to streamline those processes and create a better practice, something he said the RCMP recognizes a need to improve on.

Lake said the team will allow for training back and forth between both RCMP and IH.

The mental health workers will be hired by Interior Health and will have their own office space outside of the detachment, but will be integrated into RCMP briefings. Lake said due to the high volume of calls in Williams Lake related to medical situations, he believes Interior Health are looking to hire a nurse and a clinician.

Lake said he is hoping to hear from IH within the next month or two about who they have in place and begin bringing them into the RCMP detachment and taking part in briefings.

On behalf of IH, Matuschewski said the program is still in the early stages and IH looks forward to sharing more once it is up and running.

The pilot is similar to the Mobile Crisis Response Team (often referred to as the Car Program), which pairs a mental health nurse with an RCMP member in a vehicle. The pair work as a team to respond to mental health situations or crisis concerns.

Prince George and some Lower Mainland detachments have this type of team already.

The main difference between the Mobile Crisis Response Team and the new program coming to Williams Lake and three other IH communities, is there is not a dedicated RCMP member. This difference will allow RCMP detachments taking part to pilot the program without finding other funding resources or needing additional hiring.

Lake was not able to confirm which other communities will be participating in the pilot program.

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