City council in Penticton, B.C., is sending an urgent letter to Interior Health calling for mental health help in town.
The fight for the Car 40 program, which pairs an officer with a mental health expert on mental health calls, has been ongoing for more than a year.
“It was just to enforce the commitment this council has to that program, to show Interior Health that yes, it’s a new council, but there’s an equal commitment to getting a Car 40 program here,” said the Penticton mayor Julius Bloomfield.
“We can’t expect RCMP officers to be mental health workers, they’re not trained for that. They have great skills but that takes a certain level of training.”
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A recent Community Safety Review showed that RCMP are in dire need of more mental health resources.
The review stated that more than 50 per cent of calls to Penticton RCMP have a mental health component.
“The main thing that the report did was it justified the perceptions of the people,” said Bloomfield.
“Perceptions and realities don’t always align, but in this case with the crime situation here, with the homeless situation, with the mental health situation, the addiction situation, the reality backs up the perception by the public and by the politicians as to the situation in Penticton.”
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Back in December, Interior Health announced the expansion of Car 40, now referred to as the Integrated Crisis Response Teams, in Kamloops and Kelowna but Penticton was left out.
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“We’ve had existing programs in Kelowna and Kamloops and we did a review. Those two programs were different, they have different names, they function somewhat differently. And so the first step for us was to essentially achieve a standard across Kelowna and Kamloops, one name, consistent staffing model, consistent hours, consistent data collection and a consistent approach to the services,” said Jason Giesbrecht, executive director of Interior Health Primary Care and Mental Health and Substance Use Transformation.
“That allowed us to sort of build a foundation – where we’re adding some leadership capability so that as we move on to Phase 2, we have a foundation, we have some consistency in terms of our processes, and we can build off that.”
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Interior Health says they are committed to ongoing discussions with RCMP and the City of Penticton to respond to individuals in crisis while operating mental health supports already in place.
“Penticton is a priority community for the next phase of improving crisis response and addressing the needs of vulnerable individuals,” said Giesbrecht.
“We have a crisis response team now in Penticton that works closely with the RCMP. When required the RCMP will contact the crisis response team and can get support for attending calls – that team currently operates from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.”
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According to Giesbrecht, there is no timeline as to when the Car 40 program may expand into Penticton.
“We’re using a data-driven, evidence-based approach – looking at things like call volumes. We’ve had some focus groups where we’ve talked to people that are involved in crisis response now in the community, and across Interior Health actually,” said Giesbrecht.
“We’re using that information to start to form a proposal, we’re looking at some technological solutions, as well as what’s worked across the country in terms of in-person solutions for communities the size of Penticton.”
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Interior Health says that the data collection work is moving quickly and the proposal could be ready within the next few months.
Meanwhile, the City of Penticton is also sending a letter to the Canadian Mental Health Association regarding the Peer Assisted Care Team (PACT) program.
“If we have a PACT team here as well as the Car 40 program, I think they’re two vital tools in that toolbox that we need that we don’t have right now,” said Bloomfield.
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