A new mobile crisis response team in Whitehorse is being described by Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee as another tool to help address mental health emergencies.
The Yukon government and Yukon RCMP announced the unit — also known as Car 867 — on Nov. 1, stating it will see a mental health nurse from the territory’s mental wellness and substance use services unit and an RCMP officer staff the unit, providing a specialized joint response to mental health emergencies.
Such responses will include on-site mental health assessments and referrals to community agencies.
“Car 867 is another tool that Yukon government and the RCMP will be able to use in responding to people experiencing emergency mental health challenges” McPhee said. “We know that integrating police response and trained mental health nurses can lead to better outcomes for everyone involved. Car 867 will reinforce the relationship between the RCMP and the health care system to better serve Yukoners.”
The unit will work to provide trauma-informed, client-centred responses to emergencies, helping with early intervention. The government also noted the new unit may help keep people away from the justice system and hospitals.
It was pointed out similar units in other parts of the country have seen a reduction in the number of people ending up in hospital for mental health assessments, which frees up hospital and police resources.
The unit will operate between 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday to begin with, though RCMP will continue to respond to calls at all times. A spokesperson for Health and Social Services stated in an email that the limited hours will be in place while until an additional nurse is hired.
RCMP are currently identifying when it receives the most mental health calls. Once a second nurse is hired, it’s expected the unit will be available every day, bridging afternoon into evening hours, Health and Social Services stated in an email.
Follow-up and referrals will be done on a case-by-case basis. Clients may be connected to other resources, such as counselling and psychiatric programs.
Requests for help will continue to go through RCMP dispatch staff who will determine if the unit should respond, Health and Social Services said.
If Car 867 is available and the risk assessment permits, it will be the primary response. Health and Social Services noted that should the risk assessment not permit bringing the clinician to the scene, Car 867 may be able to assist remotely until the scene is secure. If the unit is unavailable or off shift, another RCMP officer will attend the call for service.
When it is dispatched, Car 867 will go to the individual to provide support on-scene, “providing the unit is available and the call relates to a mental health issue or suicide risk.”
“In many regions, including Yukon, police have increasingly become the first point of contact for those experiencing a mental health event, and often become the conduit to accessing follow up specialized care,” Yukon RCMP commanding officer chief Supt. Scott Sheppard said.
“While the RCMP has made significant strides in better equipping our members to handle these interactions, there is no substitute for the skills a professional mental health worker brings. I am confident this new partnership will provide better care for those in need as well as enhance Yukon RCMP’s ability in responding to these calls for service.”
RCMP regularly respond to people dealing with a mental health crisis, such as wellbeing checks and calls related to the territory’s Mental Health Act.”
Whitehorse RCMP responded to 1,270 calls related to mental health and well-being checks in 2021, and 585 calls in the first half of this year. Such calls make up seven to eight per cent of the total Whitehorse RCMP calls for service.
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