After a year offering a new mode of care to those in crisis, the organizations that brought Car 60 to Prince George are calling it a resounding success.
The program, also known as the Urgent Community Response Team, pairs plain-clothes RCMP officers in an unmarked police car with nurses trained in mental health and substance use services. Launched in April 2015, that shortened year alone had the team respond to about 600 calls.
The program, based on a similar initiative in Surrey, launched after the local RCMP identified it needed support when dealing with mental health and substance-related calls.
"The Car 60 Program has provided a more thorough first response and after-care intervention for these clients. From a strategic and innovative perspective, it has provided wrap-around care that goes beyond putting a Band-Aid on the momentary crisis," said Supt. Warren Brown in a press release issued Monday, also the launch of Mental Health Week.
Typically, general duty officers respond to calls and will refer to Car 60 if the clientele fits. The team will then assess the person to see if they can be referred to local community resources or taken to the hospital. The team averages 66 calls a month, of which about 16 need "intensive" support and are apprehended under the Mental Health Act and about 11 of them are hospitalized.
"Up until the Car 60 Program, when a crisis occurred in these peoples' lives, our response was simple yet inadequate; stop the crisis and transport them either to jail or the local hospital," Brown said. "From a community perspective, I believe this is a better use of our resources as it identifies root causes."
Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, called the approach an innovative tool that offers a "more appropriate response."
"We know that the number of people interacting with police and the health care system that have mental health and or substance use problems is growing, and we want to ensure that the resources are in place to support these individuals in need," Bond said.
Northern Health's director of specialized services for the northern interior said it's part of a strategy to improve access to care in the city.
"This program will see people in need connecting with those they know and trust in the health care system for supportive follow-up care," said Aaron Bond in a statement.
The set-up gives the responders the ability to make better connections, build trust and take the time to understand a patient's situation to provide better on-the-ground and follow-up support.
"We've received overwhelmingly positive support from the community, general duty RCMP, and Northern Health staff," said Const. Sonja Blom.