By Michael-Allan Marion, Brantford Expositor
Anne Coombe, director of clinical services at St. Leonard’s Community Services, speaks during a news conference Monday at the Brantford police station to announce $500,000 in funding for the Brantford Mental Health Crisis Support System. Next to her are police Chief Geoff Nelson, Daniel Pearson Hirdes, CEO of HealthIM, and William Charnetski, chief health innovation strategist, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. (Brian Thompson/The Expositor)
Brantford police and St. Leonard’s Community Services are using a $500,000 grant to build a system to help people with mental health problems get the help they need faster.
William Charnetski, chief health innovation strategist in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Daniel Pearson Hirdes, CEO of HealthIM, police Chief Geoff Nelson and Anne Coombe, St. Leonard’s director of clinical services, explained the project at a Monday morning news conference at the police station.
They explained new technology that the Brantford Mental Health Crisis Support System can use to help care for those living with mental illnesses and lessen the likelihood of the need of police intervention.
At the core is an algorithm that allows health-care providers to assess those who have come into contact with the system.
“I have no doubt that the Brantford Mental Health Crisis Support System project, supported by the health technology fund grant, will have a profound impact on our community’s ability to respond effectively to persons in mental-health crisis,” Nelson said.
Nelson said that the experience of police services across Ontario is similar.
“We respond to many situations where members of our community are in some form of mental-health crisis. Beyond that, we respond to many more incidents where mental illness is a contributing factor to why the police were called.”
Nelson noted that mental illness is a contributing factor in about one in every 20 police calls in Brantford.
“In situations of mental-health crisis, police are left to determine if apprehension is necessary. Is the individual a harm to themselves, to others or unable to care for themselves? In situations where apprehension is not warranted, often the individual is left to navigate the community mental health system on their own.”
In most cases, the chief said, the person in crisis never connects with appropriate mental-health services and cycles in and out of crisis, repeatedly requiring police intervention.
Nelson said that research found that apprehensions had occurred in 60 per cent of response calls. It was also discovered that officers were waiting with the individual, on average, about four hours at the hospital before a decision on admission was made.
And only half of those apprehended were actually admitted to the hospital.
“This was not an effective response to those in our community living with mental illness who had fallen into crisis,” said Nelson.
Finding a way to break that cycle brought together Brantford police, St. Leonard’s, a company called HealthIM, the Brant Community Healthcare System and InterRAI, an international collaborative to improve the quality of life of vulnerable persons through a comprehensive assessment system.
In April, the partners put together a mental health crisis response system that permits the accurate collection and exchange of information between law enforcement and health-care staff. Health IM streamlines the information-sharing process, identifying risk of self-harm or harm to others, and immediately connecting those in crisis with community mental health services.
“Since that time we have witnessed remarkable results,” Nelson said.
“Apprehension rates dropping to approximately 20 per cent, admission rates have risen to nearly 80 per cent and hospital wait times dropped to about 90 minutes.
“But. most important, we are seeing that everyone is connected with appropriate mental-health services, that they are not left to navigate the community mental health system on their own.”
The partnership is moving forward with the next step, using the health technology fund grant to build an outreach system designed to ensure that individuals are successfully connected with mental health-care service and reduce the likelihood that they will falling into a mental-health crisis.
Coombe said the project is a needed next step by the mental health crisis support team.
“Mental illness has become the leading cause of disability in Canada,” she said.
“People with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die earlier than the general population, and mental illness has the ability to cut 10 or 20 years from a person’s life expectancy.”
She noted a new report released last week indicated more Canadians were hospitalized due to alcohol-related issues last year than for those who had had a heart attack.
“The disease burden of mental illness and addiction in Ontario is 1.5 times higher than all cancers put together,” she said.
“Shockingly, for those aged 25 to 34, one in eight deaths in Ontario is related to opioid use.”
Coombe said St. Leonard’s is excited to be part of “this amazing opportunity,” and looks forward to seeing how effective it will be.