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SPAN examines top social issues in Nelson
Last spring, the Social Planning Action Network (SPAN) put out a survey to the community called, “Ideas Into Action” which asked four questions on community strengths, priority social issues and recommended actions.
As a follow up to this survey, SPAN decided to conduct three interviews with community members who have a direct link to one of the top social issues that were identified by the community results of the survey.
To leave feedback on these interviews or to get more information, visit spannelson.ca.
The first interview is with Chief Wayne Holland, Sergeant Dino Falcone and Inspector Paul Burkhart of the Nelson Police Department regarding dealing with mental health issues and Car 87.
What is one of the biggest challenges officers in Nelson face when on a call that deals with a community member who has been identified as an EDP (emotionally disturbed person)?
Holland: Mental health is the most pressing and emergent problem in North America, certainly in Canada today. Biggest challenge: we have no time. There are other calls pending. Is this the best we can do for that client, that human being? To go to a call, either if they are a danger to themselves, acting out, disturbing a business person’s business venue. We can tuck them in one pink room at KLH. A wonderful facility, but they’ve got one room that they can go into and really no one dedicated there to deal with them.
We’ve got other calls, how are we going to deal with it? They’re going to end up in our cells, or up at Kootenay Lake Hospital and that’s just not the best we can do. That’s a lack of resources.
When you compare how many officers Nelson Police has with our comparator police agencies, which are Oak Bay and Central Saanich. We are fit to seven people under strength. That’s a lot of people, that’s a capacity to have a car 87 or mental health team person working full-time 24/7. So that’s just huge. It’s resources and the time to do for these people what should be done.
Burkhart: I think the chief hit on that saying that it’s the resources. It’s not the resources for going out and dealing with them, we’re going to always be able to go out and deal with the person who is not doing well on the street. But the idea would be to get ahead of that before it happens and maybe go knock on a door and see how someone is feeling that day and making sure you know that they didn’t show up for their medication yesterday. The mental health worker would know that and come to us and say why don’t we go and check this person out and see how they are doing. And we’d do that.
Last year, one of our beat officers was walking by one of the businesses downtown and noticed one of our female EDP regulars. He walked by and about an hour later she was still there. It just didn’t seem right, so he went in and spoke with her and they contacted mental health. She was coming up for her shot the next day, he walked her over there and she got her shot. He did a little preventative policing. What a better way to do things than to wait until she crashes later that day or the next morning before she’s able to get in. That might save not only our resources, mental health resources. It might save a trip up to the pink room, maybe a trip to Trail if she’s so far gone. It just makes sense. We do it for other diseases, we prevent through flu shots and things like that... well just give us the resources to prevent situations.
Falcone: We need to be proactive. We’re so reactive that we’re running all over not really focusing on anything. Then someone goes up to the KLH pink room, but we feel like it’s a revolving door. They come out and have to deal with the hard illnesses, tough illnesses with substance abuse on top of it. And then of course, sometimes homelessness on top of all that and we’re just not equipped to provide proper resources to do that so it makes it really challenging for us.
What is the pink room?
Falcone: It’s an isolation room, so that if we have to bring someone up to the hospital that we feel is a danger to themselves or to others, and they have a history of mental illness, we’ll bring them up there. If they’re really disruptive, it’s not really fair to the other patients in the hospital emergency room, so we may put them in the isolation room, so they can’t hurt themselves or hurt anyone else, or cause a big disturbance in the hospital to the staff or patients. That’s where they would go.
We’ve gone up there and the isolation room is occupied. Now what do you do? Again, it’s providing proper services for any mental health patient that’s up there. It’s not really fair to kick the other person out, so the resources aren’t really appropriate.
Do you think the community is aware of all this, the revolving door and your efforts to have a Car 87?
Holland: We have never seen such support. It’s been in excess of two years, explaining to people, going to Nelson Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce, Council, our Police board, Kootenay Lake Hospital. The community knows because we talk to people. We went out there and got them together. They are all waiting for this to happen. They recognize this is the simple most cost effective solution. The only person who was missing of course was Interior Health. And that was over two years of me trying to get connected with someone from Interior Health. I’d have multiple telephone calls and interviews explaining what Car 87 was year after year and I was dealing with right at the top of the food chain. So not to start a war with Interior Health, but this is just such a basic, simple concept that I struggled with the notion that it was well in excess of two years before we got our answer about Car 87. So that’s frustrating.
Can you give an example of Car 87 being beneficial to a community?
Falcone: On the coast, what they are doing is they’ve adopted a model that utilizes a police officer integrated into a clinical team, similar to the Car 87. This one’s even a little more intensive where they have shown that they’ve demonstrated a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in negative police contacts and involvement in the criminal justice system for this sort of community treatment team.
Most of the focus is on reducing police contact. Additional benefits are being realized in reductions in emergency room visits and other emergency health services. So there’s been additional improvements between the clients and the police through all of this.
A shift in opinion about mentally ill and an increased willingness for clients to engage in positive contacts now with the police. Just because of all this proactive type of policing.
The officers have been instrumental in supporting clients as they navigate their way through the criminal justice system and facilitating access to clinical staff. What a great program that is and that is all we are asking for.
Holland: Interior Health, quote unquote say, “no longer is Car 87 or a mental health car, considered an appropriate or good standard and that further, Car 87 wouldn’t work in Nelson because it’s a smaller community.”
I disagree. The fact that Nelson is smaller, lends itself to the concept that it would be much more impactful here because we would know all the clients. There would be less clients for us to have to visit and spend time with. BC Association of Police Boards, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police; they all have presentations in every forum that we have and convene at on a mental health car; having remarkable success and they are championed across the nation. Everybody in the community, everybody in government; Simon Fraser University’s International Centre for Urban Research Studies says this is the answer and we’ll monitor and evaluate the program for free.
And when you get to the only last remaining stake holder who has been mulling this over for over two years now, and are key to the success because they have to provide the mental health registered nurse or the street worker. And they say no, that’s no longer a good practice. Somewhere, the ugly specter of politics is entering into all this and parochialism and I don’t like it and I’m outspoken about it. That’s what’s exacerbating this and that’s what makes me so mad and our board so mad.
Addressing the fact that we know Car 87 isn’t coming yet, what are your next steps?
Holland: The board (our employer) and the Mayor want to give it another go. They do not think that this was a good response from Interior Health or Health Minister Lake either. There’s going to be a collegial invitation for the senior person in charge of Interior Health, Ingrid Hampf, to come to the next police board meeting, We will hear her rationale for her personnel not engaging in really a cost neutral, proven effective program, on even a transitional basis until the $9 million multi-year gold plate special is rolled out.
We can’t wait for a test experiment or a pilot in Kamloops. We can’t wait for anywhere else. Our people on the street deserve better than that and I need my personnel to start dealing with that 18-20 per cent of matters that we are not dealing with and the street problems and the drug problems that are coming here. Because on top of the 18-20 per cent of diversion, again, we’re five to seven officers short of what we should be. So that’s a recipe for some bad things to happen here.
Falcone: If a person is causing a disturbance on Baker Street, do they really deserve to be in our cells here? They don’t. Those are not the appropriate resources for someone like that. And sometimes we are the last resort, no one else wants to deal with them, so for their own protection we bring them in here. But we all know that this isn’t the place for them.
What more can be done?
Falcone: It’s got to be a collaborative effort and it isn’t at this point, but we’re trying. Right now we meet every month with mental health, so we bring those stakeholders in and that’s what we are doing right now proactively to try and help everyone on the street that we deal with.
Holland: If you are asking what’s really needed: more beds and more housing. How about transitionally a crisis centre as well? Why can’t we have a crisis centre here that’s staffed appropriately? So if we have Car 87, and we don’t have to build a new structure, we can use existing resources and existing buildings. All it takes is food, medication, trained professionals, warm blankets, a bed and then we have some place to take these people and stabilize them. And then the case worker shows up, and then the highly trained registered nurse and then the doctor comes in the morning. And they start getting these people on the right path. But when they are out sleeping in the instabank lobbies and stuff, when they are out freezing, it’s really ridiculous.
What could community members do?
Holland: Write to the papers. Write to the ministers. Minister of Justice Anton, Health Minister Lake. Talk to the media around here. Have their groups create more impactful letters of support to submit. Our car 87 or whatever we call it, that’s the key, that’s what the community has to insist on. That the appropriate persons deal with what their agencies are mandated to do. The citizens are paying our wages and they should have every expectation that we are dealing with the other issues that are sneaking into town behind our backs, we know they are there, we just can’t find the humans to go out and deploy.
Burkhart: We’re not going to eliminate the calls that police are going to deal with in terms of mental health. There’s always going to be people that we will need to help deal with because they are at wits end and we couldn’t get to them and something happened in their life that changed things instantly. But it’s 60-80 percent that we’re going to be able to avoid that contact, that triage on the street; in their homes, with their families rather than trying to do it here in our cells.
Holland: And that’s what the citizens can do, continue to have the empathy and the understanding for this, it’s a very complicated scenario, otherwise we would’ve solved it and we haven’t, it’s getting worse.
If you had one thing to share with the community about this, what would you say?
All of them: This could be you. This is something we should all be concerned about.