Mental health unit saving patrol hours, helping mentally ill

The Ottawa Police mental health unit is saving patrol officers' time and preventing sending mentally ill clients to the hospital when it isn't necessary.

The unit partners with psychiatrists from the Ottawa Hospital to bring client care to the scene of the call which means officers are not dealing with decisions above their training.

"More clients are streamed away from the ER and onto other supports and medications based on a psychiatrist's on-scene evaluation and those that do go to the ER are dealt with much more quickly because the assessment has already been done on scene by the doctor," said Inspector Ian Kingham.

He gave a presentation at Monday's Police Services Board meeting about the first year the project was fully operational.

In 112 days the mental health unit responded to 220 calls and 88 people were not sent to the ER who otherwise may have been, saving 180 patrol hours. Fifty-one people were taken to hospital because it was deemed necessary. The remaining calls were dealt with on the scene or otherwise resolved.

Mental health calls often involve family, friends and neighbours and resolving the issue on site saves the humiliation and potential fallout of a person being unnecessarily handcuffed and taken to hospital in the back of a police cruiser.

With the success of the first year of unit, members of the Police Services Board want to see the program grow beyond three days a week.

However, those more directly involved don't think it's time yet to expand.

Psychiatrist Katherine Gillis says people often think "if it looks good let's grow it," but she doesn't think that's the next step.

"It's really about using everybody to the best of their ability, right, efficient, look at outcomes, get the data and then be prepared to change things based on that data," she said.

Even if all sides wanted to expand the program there simply isn't any money to do it.

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