Opinion

COLUMN: Car 87 program makes plenty of sense

The City of Nelson’s 2014 budget is being worked on and we are reviewing the cost of protective services, such as police, by-law officers and fire and rescue.

The Nelson Police Department has proposed a program called Car 87 that could save money for the City of Nelson, police, and Interior Health Authority. This program could be operational for approximately $15,000 and be beneficial for the safety of people with mental illness, police officers, health workers and citizens.

Many people are aware of mental illness but not the extent and cost to society.

Some facts listed on a CTV news broadcast include: “One in five Canadians experience mental illness in their lives, yet one in three do not get the help they need; Health Canada spends just five per cent of their budget on mental health, but mental illness is 15 per cent of health care expenses; mental health issues are the No. 1 cause of workplace disability and mental health issues have a total cost to the Canadian economy of $15 billion a year.”

In the City of Nelson, police officers are trained to deal with traffic violations and criminal activity but not with mental health patients, yet they are consistently called to deal with emotionally disturbed people with mental illnesses.

The Car 87 program would team a police constable with a registered nurse or registered psychiatric nurse to provide on-site assessments and intervention for people with psychiatric problems.

The nurse and police officer work as a team in assessing, managing and deciding the most appropriate action.

In Nelson the proposal is to use an unmarked police car, staffed with two full-time personnel in plain clothes; a police officer and mental health worker who could immediately respond to emotionally disturbed people.

These mentally ill people could be triaged on the street and in the vast majority of cases have their needs met without being arrested or taken to Kootenay Lake hospital.

The Car 87 program has succeeded in other communities such as Vancouver. IHA have a more detailed and expensive plan, the integrated community mental health substance use services and primary care program, which has a budget of $9 million locally.

The IHA program has a team of four professional mental health workers that deals with each patient on an ongoing basis.

This IHA program may work in the long run, but it will not be operational for some time, while the Car 87 proposal could be functioning in the short term to deal with the day-to-day incidents in the operation of the city police force.

Using the Nelson Police Department to deal with mental patients is costly to the police budget and ultimately local taxpayers.

Local support groups and police know most of the mentally ill people on the streets, who end up being repeat cases dealt with by local police officers and emergency room staff, which ends up taking the police officers away from regular duties and putting stress on the police force operations.

The current situation in the city and local area is not working well for anyone, especially people with mental illness.

All parties want the best for people with mental illness and do not want them arrested, placed into police custody and/or transported to the emergency room.

The Car 87 program may not be a perfect model but for a small amount of money it could be a good solution for the next few years.

Car 87 could be set up immediately with the support of city police, local community health workers and IHA staff to take care of persons with mental illness and save everyone time and money.

— Nelson city councillor Robin Cherbo shares this weekly space with

his colleagues around the table.

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