A unique team within the RCMP is helping to make a difference in the community.
The Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which began in 2011 as a pilot project, has two psychiatric nurses who go out with RCMP members to calls that have a mental health aspect to them. There are two PACT teams currently in Red Deer which include RCMP Const. Rafal Jaworski and registered psychiatric nurse Michelle Buchan and Const. Kathryn Morrison and registered psychiatric nurse John Obelienius.
“The nurse and the member work as a team. They respond to any calls that involve individuals or families experiencing mental health, addiction or psychological crisis – especially when they are a danger to themselves or to the public,” said RCMP Cpl. Sarah Knelsen, who is also the supervisor of the community response unit and the PACT team. “Our teams connect them with resources to help ensure long-term success. Our teams then follow up with them to make sure they are doing okay and to make sure they have reached out to the resources or agencies that were provided.”
Red Deer is one of two communities with RCMP who have a PACT team in Alberta. Calgary and Edmonton City Police also have PACT teams as well.
“Having the PACT team not only assists the citizens of Red Deer, it also helps the RCMP general duty members that are responding to the calls – if they know it is a mental health call then PACT automatically attends if they are working. It alleviates the general duty police officer from being tied up at those mental health calls so that they can respond to other calls for service that are coming in,” said Knelsen. “For us, it’s such a great team and it takes a lot off of our frontline members.”
The Primary Care Network funds the two mental health nurse positions, and the constables are provided by the RCMP for the team.
“The PACT team is a huge benefit because ultimately we are here to serve the people in our community and the people that the PACT team are reaching are people who may not be getting the services they need in a timely manner if it wasn’t for the PACT team reaching out,” said Lorna Milkovich, the executive director of PCN. “For us, it’s about better care for the community.”
Those in need of the PACT team contact them directly through the RCMP dispatch, but Knelsen said if it is an emergency, they can be contacted through 911 as well.
From April 2013 to March 31st, 2014 there were 1,271 mental health crisis calls that the RCMP received. This compares to 1,279 calls during the same period the year before.
The calls come from all over the City of Red Deer, with the 80% being from private homes.
“We walk alongside the individuals right from the first time we see them in crisis and then get them connected wherever they need to go,” said Obelienius. “We work with the clients and we try and get them to move from that pre-contemplative stage to a contemplative stage – here’s the door and we are opening it, but they have to take the next step. We are advocates for them and help guide them in the right direction. We follow up with them as long as the individual needs.”
He added the calls they receive are not always related to mental health issues – they receive calls that are in relation to substance abuse, suicidal ideation and domestic violence, among others.
“We hear from people who are in situational crisis too. Someone is in a crisis of some sort and they don’t know how to get out of it because they are so emotional or so overwhelmed. We provide a shoulder for them to lean on,” said Obelienius. “We deal with homelessness issues, grief or someone who has been evicted and they don’t know where to go.”
In addition, before the PACT team was developed in Red Deer, seven out of 10 mental health calls were brought to the hospital. Now that the PACT team is working in the City, about one to two mental health calls out of 10 are taken to the hospital.
“The nurses can assess right on the scene, so a lot of times John and Michelle are determining on scene if the person needs to go to the hospital. In a community that doesn’t have a PACT team, a member can’t assess somebody so they automatically have to take them to the hospital to ensure their safety. So the PACT team is cutting out that step,” said Knelsen.
Obelienius added a lot of the time the person in distress just needs to talk through their issues. “They need to figure out what is going and get rid of that tunnel vision they have and we can connect them to the resources they need,” he said.
The program is well underway so much so that many community agencies are beginning to contact PACT directly instead of first going through the RCMP if they are in need of assistance.
“We develop that relationship with them and there is trust there,” he said.
Going forward, Knelsen said she hopes the PACT team will continue to work with PCN and continue to build relationships with various agencies in the community.
“Eventually I would like to see three teams in Red Deer, but we are taking baby steps.”