Tuesday April 15, 2014

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Copping out on mental health


The problem is chronic and institutionalized: Sunshine Coast RCMP members are now serving as de facto mental health support workers in the community.

As Staff Sgt. Herb Berdahl told the policing committee on Monday, Mental Health Act calls continue to place major demands on his detachment. The call volume jumped by 50 per cent in 2012 and, despite efforts by RCMP and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) officials to work in closer co-operation, the demands have not been reduced. And some of those demands are clearly outside the realm of law enforcement.

Take Sumac Place in Gibsons. The RCMP was called to the new tertiary care facility eight times in December to transport the same patient back to the facility after the person had left on a day pass and then failed to return the same evening.

It’s not like the RCMP had to go out looking for the patient — the Sumac staff knew exactly where the patient was — nor was there any “harm to self or others” dimension to the calls.

It was a simple pickup job for a mental health support worker — and the RCMP was called in to do it.

For people who are in rough shape and could pose harm to themselves or others, the deficiency in mental health care is also apparent. Berdahl described the situation as a revolving door: “They are taken to St. Mary’s, released, only to be within a short time re-arrested and released again.”

Perhaps VCH brass would like the RCMP to dispense with the medical “middle man” altogether, start housing some of these patients in cells and provide them with treatment and counselling in their spare time. That’s how ludicrous this off-loading has become.

Since the huge increase in Mental Health Act calls in 2012, Sumac Place has opened in Gibsons, and VCH has cut three mental health staff positions on the Coast, all the while claiming there would be no reduction in services or extra strain put on the RCMP.

We don’t buy it, and we applaud Sunshine Coast Regional District chair Garry Nohr for his idea of holding a high level meeting between the RCMP and hospital board, with the object of hatching a proposal for the Ministry of Health that would address this chronic misappropriation of public resources.

At Monday’s meeting, Berdahl pointed out the problem is not isolated to the Sunshine Coast, but is hitting detachments on the Lower Mainland and elsewhere.

Depending on police to provide basic mental health support services is a dangerous policy, from both public safety and clinical mental health perspectives.

It’s time for Victoria to recognize that calling the cops is no way to run a mental health system.



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