Early successes for OPP mental health pilot project

Pictured are mental health nurse Jody Maribel and PC Eric Ranger (OPP/Contributed)

SDG – Nearly six months into the OPP Mobile Crisis Response Team pilot project, diversion rates for mental health calls have seen a noticeable increase.

Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry OPP acting detachment commander Simon Hardy and constable Jim Blanchette present- ed an update to the mental health pilot at the February 16th SDG Counties council meeting.

“We’ve had tremendous success,” Blanchette told council. “It has exceeded my expectations even.”

Council approved the $120,000 one-year pilot project in the 2020 budget. Due to the pandemic, hiring of a full-time mental health registered nurse for the team was not completed until September.

The pilot has three goals, improving access to mental health care, improving quality of care, and resident experience improvements.

Blanchette told council that the addition of the RN has helped with crisis response, de-escalation, communication, and with completing assessments in the home at the time of a service call.

“The quality of care is less intrusive, our clients are much more comfortable in their own home,” he said adding that pairing the RN with an OPP officer builds rap- port with those needing services which helps in future calls.

“Clients are telling us over- and-over again glad they are get- ting the help they need,” Blanchette said. “Family members are saying how happy they are with our initiative.”

The numbers back up the improvements made with the pilot.

Hospital wait time hours, which is the time spent by officers with a person while awaiting help for a mental health issue have dropped from 2.34 hours between September 2019 and January 2020, to 1.5 hours between September 2020 and January 2021.

Blanchette said that in the last month that number has dropped to 30 minutes.

He said that across the province 40-45 per cent of mental health calls result in apprehension. Prior to the hiring of the mental health RN, the best the SDG OPP had done was 25 per cent.

“Currently we are running at 11 per cent of mental health calls resulting in apprehension,” Blanchette told council. “We’re not only making less apprehensions, we’re less intrusive, we’re not penal- izing people who are suffering a mental health issue.”

He added that when an apprehension does occur, to protect the safety of the person or others, the RN is already working to connect that person with services. That connection saves time and provides a quicker outcome and access to services for the person in distress.

COVID-19 has caused an in- crease in mental health calls from the previous year. But the outcomes from those cases are considerably different. Voluntary escort to the hospital is down nearly 20 per cent from last year. Involuntary apprehension is down nearly 60 per cent, while diversion and referrals are up by nearly 60 per cent according to data presented.

“I think there has been a huge paradigm shift in how officers look at mental illness and mental health, both their own and the community members we serve,” Hardy told council. “We can al- ways try to improve but I think [the program] has been nothing but positive.”

Hardy described that police responses to mental health calls are becoming more proactive rather than reactive.

“We’re not just jumping in a car, going lights and sirens to a call. We’re implementing strategies that will prevent us from having to go lights and sirens to a call.

Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) said that the pro- gram fits with the County’s objectives of being innovative.

“This is a program that should be hugely celebrated,” she said. “This is innovative, boots-on-the- ground, where our residents feel the impact.

Councillor Allan Armstrong (North Dundas) said that when the pilot project was first brought up at budget last year, he was not against the project but he was uncertain if it was the right way to proceed.

“I have to give kudos to Councillor Gardner. It was her passion and knowledgeable speech that changed my mind to see that it was worthwhile,” he said. “I am glad to see that the stats have borne that out.” Armstrong said he supported the program continuing.

“I don’t think it’s onerous and it’s a great service to the people of SDG.”

Council supported carrying over the unspent $80,000 amount of the program from 2020, and add in an additional $40,000 to continue the program to the end of the 2021 calendar year.

Other council business…

SDG has issued the tender for hiring an education consultant to create a rural schools plan for the county. The consultant will develop a plan for advocating for improvements to a rural, publicly-funded education system. Also included is a data-finding mission to compile a list of active schools by board, a comprehensive inventory of school services like day- cares, 10 years of enrolment data, facility condition information and current utilization rates.

The RFP deadline is February 26th and the budget for the project is $60,000. SDG council approved hiring a consultant after extensive discussions last fall.

The appointment of Alexander MacIsaac to the SDG Library Board was approved by council. MacIsaac is a resident of South Stormont and recent graduate of the University of Prince Edward Island. His appointment fills a vacancy left after the death of former South Stormont mayor Jim Bancroft in 2020.

Councillors moved to approve the joint tender between SDG, South Dundas, South Stormont, South Glengarry and North Glengarry for centre-line road marking. Provincial Road Markings Inc was awarded the $367,752 contract for 2021 with a one year renewal option for 2022. The county will pay $336,000, South Dundas’ portion is $6,048.

Crossroads Pavement Markings Inc. was awarded the contract for a joint tender for specialty paint markings priced at $57,331.45. The county and all six lower-tier municipalities are involved in the bid. SDG’s portion is $41,889, South Dundas’ is $7,508.45. There is an option to renew the contract for 2022.

Council approved the use of $20,000 from the COVID-19 Safe Restart reserve to update a feasibility study of expanding the Lancaster branch of the SDG Library System. The branch is challenged with limited space and is designated as a heritage site. The last study was completed in 2003.

Staff reported that Councillors Bryan McGillis (South Stormont) and Jamie MacDonald (North Glengarry) are standing as nominees to the Eastern Ontario Regional Network board of directors. EORN is involved with expanding broadband internet capacity across Eastern Ontario.

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