Mental health worker partnering with FSJ RCMP

RCMP

Fort St. John RCMP are set to welcome a new way of responding to mental health related calls next week.

It’s an initiative years in the making and the cities Mayor is ‘elated’ to see the police partnership with Northern Health come to fruition.

“Once they realized that they could build that capcity to do this. It was matter of getting it going and then COVID hit, stalled it, and so were on the road again,” Lori Ackerman said.

The Car 60 program has been in place at a number of B.C. RCMP detachments for years.

After 24 months of work towards initiating the program in Fort St. John, a trained mental health worker will respond to related calls with RCMP starting Monday. The Northern Health staff member partnered with police will be able to provide appropriate medical care, refer to resources and access patient records.

Fort St. John RCMP responded to 493 mental health related files last year. That is part of a three year trend upwards attributed to the pandemic and an increase of substance use in the city.

While the RCMP will still be on scene, Inspector Anthony Hanson hopes a mental health worker led response will alleviate victim stress.

“The health worker will take precedent,” said Hanson who added officers will be on scene to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Hanson oversaw the Car 60 program during his time in Prince George.

“Upon coming to Fort St. John and sort of seeing the breadth of mental health related calls we were dealing with, I thought it was worthwhile reaching out to Northern Health to see if they would be interested in forming the same type of unit here,” he said.

The mental health worker will serve the Fort St. John detachment area. Angela De Smit, Northern Health’s Chief Operating Officer for the Northeast, says the start date is part of ongoing mental health care improvements that patients deserve.

“So this is just another enhanced service that were bringing to the community of Fort St. John at this time,” De Smitt said.

However, the Fort St. John Car 60 program has been considered a hybrid version.

While the initiative in Prince George has a specific unmarked vehicle respond, the Fort St. John health worker will arrive on scene in an RCMP cruiser. In addition, police will stay in uniform while in Prince George plain clothes officers respond with the mental health worker.

De Smitt said “Once it’s launched, it’ll continue to grow and be a valuable service in our community.”

A sentiment echoed by Ackerman, “Once this program is up and running and were able to see how it works really well and then there’s going to be an opportunity to tweak it.”

In the meantime, the hope is Car 60 can resolve mental health crisis on scene and reduce the number of hours RCMP officers wait in the hospital emergency room with patients.