After advocating for the better part of a decade, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam will finally have health care professionals accompany RCMP officers on mental health calls.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart joined Coun. Craig Hodge and Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson outside city hall on Monday, July 17, to announce the communities that will receive funding for their own Mobile Integrated Crisis Response team (MICR).
Stewart said he’s had to make a mental health call regarding his daughter before, which resulted with two armed officers on his front porch.
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“Everyone just agrees that’s not the best thing,” Stewart said. “Undoubtedly there are lots of folks in our community, particularly marginalized parts of our community, where fear of the uniform is not a helpful reality in a crisis response.”
The province announced that $3 million is being committed to integrate MICR teams – also known as Car programs – into nine B.C. communities.
These include Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Burnaby within Fraser Health, along with Penticton, Vernon, Squamish, Prince Rupert and the Westshore.
Coquitlam will receive $250,000 annually, Robinson said.
She said the province has been looking to broaden the Car program model and identify resources, people and partnerships to evolve and expand.
The Car 87 program in Vancouver and Car 67 program in Surrey have been around for decades, and involve partnering mental health professionals with police officers to respond to mental health calls.
The health care professionals provide on-site emotional and mental health assessments to decide the most appropriate action, which range from referrals to emergency crisis interventions.
One in five police interactions currently involve someone with a mental health disorder, according to Fraser Health.
MICR teams will typically be staffed with psychiatric nurses, but specialization also range from outreach workers to counsellors, Robinson said.
All MICR staff will work through the health authorities, and be connected to regional health resources.
Tim Baker, a registered psychiatric nurse with the Car 67 program, said that partnerships between nurses and police are very beneficial, and he was “thrilled” to see the programs expand.
“We can give 100 percent of our care and attention to the client, knowing that police are there to keep us and clients safe,” Baker said.
Robinson said a challenge has been finding trained and skilled people, and bringing together all elements into partnerships.
“Some would think it’s just as easy as just saying, well, here’s money, but you have to make sure that your partnerships are working in the long run,” she said. “Every community is going to look a little different. Their resources are different, their needs are different, and the partnerships are different.”
Fraser Health and Coquitlam RCMP are still working out how exactly the MICR teams will be deployed.
“The testing has already been done,” Robinson said. “They’ve had this model for quite some time, this is an expansion of a program that we know works.”
Robinson said she didn’t think the MICR teams would add further pressure to the nursing shortage across the province.
On the contrary, she said providing resources to people suffering from mental health crises earlier will relieve pressure on the system later on.
Steward agreed, stating that having a health professional on site would help reduce demand on mental health emergency wards by diverting patients to other available resources.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time, and council has always been quite unanimous,” Stewart said. “I’m hopeful that this is a big part of the steps forward that we can make as government at ensuring that mental health crises get the response appropriate to their needs.”
MICR programs would also help free up policing resources to focus on crime, according to Fraser Health.
Maureen Levy, assistant commissioner to the RCMP’s Lower Mainland District Commander, said that police resources are being tied up with an increasing number of mental health calls.
Coquitlam RCMP have experienced a rise in mental health police calls, according to quarterly reports to both Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam municipal councils in 2022.
Last October, they reported mental health calls for the second trimester were up 40 percent in Coquitlam compared to the three-year average, and average hospital wait times were up to 97 minutes for attending police officers.