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Police/hospital mental health team funded

East End residents dealing with a mental health crisis will soon have a team dedicated to helping them, after a proposal from Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH) and Toronto Police Service's 55 and 54 Divisions was recently approved by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network.

The hospital had twice previously requested funding for a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) – made up of a police officer and a mental health nurse, both full-time – but had been denied until this third request. Because of the time spent working on the previous applications, Linda Young, Director of Maternal Newborn Child, Mental Health, Interprofessional Practice and Organizational Learning for TEGH, believes the two organizations will mesh effortlessly.

“The police worked very closely with us on each of our submissions, so we've had a partnership with them around trying to create this initiative for a while,” she said.

TEGH CEO Rob Devitt is excited not only because of the approval, but also because the LHIN has asked for the process to be fast-tracked, as well as making the program transferable to other areas of Toronto that still don't have an MCIT in place.

“Funding ours will still leave a couple of parts of the city uncovered. So they've asked us to co-lead that initiative with someone from Toronto Police, fast track what we're doing, but also make it forward compatible so we can have a city-wide approach,” he said.

Devitt emphasized that both the hospital and police must work together in order for the team to be effective.

“MCITs are a partnership between hospitals and police, so it's got to be done absolutely hand-in-glove,” said Devitt.

If TEGH is the hand in that metaphor, 55 and 54 Divisions are the glove, under the leadership of 55 Division Superintendent Frank Bergen.

Bergen has had experience with MCITs in the past, having been involved in the pilot project at St. Michael's Hospital downtown, followed by supervising the program once it was fully implemented. He believes the program provides a much better service to those he calls clients, in this case, those with mental health issues who are in need of help. The combination of a police officer and a nurse “affords you the ability to have street triage, and that's the key, that's what's successful.”

In many cases, the teams are able to find more appropriate help for the person in crisis, and avoid having primary response police officers sitting in line at the emergency department at TEGH.

“It tends to have a more focused control that's specific to the client's needs,” said Bergen.

The other advantage of having only two officers and two nurses working on the team is familiarity with repeat clients.

“If you're sharing five platoons dealing with people they might not necessarily have that history with that person, whereas the mobile crisis intervention team certainly starts establishing a client base,” he said.

That client base can also be approached proactively by the team to help avoid some situations from developing in the first place, said Bergen.

Although there's no firm dates in place for when the MCIT will actually be up and running, the funding is in place for the hospital, the LHIN has requested the program be fast-tracked, and Devitt and Young at TEGH are both itching to get moving; the first meetings to facilitate the process are already happening.

“I think it'll be sooner rather than later,” said Devitt.

For his part, Bergen has spoken with his counterparts at 54 Division, and the logistics are mostly in place – 55 and 54 will each provide one officer for the team, though the office space, vehicle and equipment will come from 55; all the equipment and officers will come from the Divisions' existing budget.

“We're ready to go,” said Bergen.

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