Despite concerns over recent incidents between law enforcement and citizens, Interior Health (IH) says it’s not looking at expanding the Police and Crisis Team program (PACT) in the region.
Following a press conference this week held by the Southeast Division Chief Superintendent of the RCMP on the issue of police interaction, Karen Bloemink, vice-president of clinical operations for IH North said Thursday (July 2) that while IH remains committed to partnering with RCMP and the communities, the health authority doesn’t believe boosting PACT service is the solution.
“Mental health is a challenge being experienced across B.C. and Canada, and a single service enhancement will not address the complex situations Interior Health, our municipal partners and the RCMP face daily, particularly during a time of two public health emergencies,” she stated.
Her comments and the comments of Southeast Division Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli come after a video was released at the end of June showing Kelowna RCMP officer Const. Lacey Browning dragging UBCO student Mona Wang down a hall and pressing her head to the floor with a boot during a wellness check.
Browning is facing a civil suit for that incident. A petition calling for her to be fired and charged has garnered over 350,000 signatures. Currently, Browning remains with the Kelowna detachment on desk duty.
Haugli said he reached out to the CEO of IH to discuss the expansion of the PACT program in the Southeast District.
“My goal is to greatly expand this needed service (PACT) in existing locations and it is not always available, and introduce it in as many communities as possible,” stated Haugli.
The PACT consists of a dedicated psychiatric nurse and a specially trained RCMP officer who patrol the streets and respond to calls.
Bloemink said the PACT team sees an average of four to five clients per shift in Kelowna, while in Kamloops, the Car40 team sees approximately three clients per shift.
”This model is not the most effective use of health care resources, especially when we know there is a much more significant demand for mental health services for the whole population,” she said. “Mental health nurses are highly skilled, valuable resources and they are able to reach more people through team-based models of service where care is delivered in a proactive way.”
According to Bloemink, team-based models are different than those that are based on responding to calls during a crisis.
“In those situations, when there is a crisis, we have an opportunity to work with our partners and make sure they know how to access emergency mental health services. This work is underway already – it is ongoing work with our partners at the RCMP and in communities,” she explained.
Since 2017, IH has invested more efforts into intensive case management, assertive community treatment and community substance use treatment to engage people in treatment and to provide access to a team of resources (nurses, social workers, addictions workers and psychiatrists).
Kelowna’s Mayor Colin Basran weighed in on the comments made by Haugli following the press conference, stating he and city manager Doug Gilchrist will be meeting with IH next week to talk about the increasing numbers of calls for assistance on mental health incidents and how best to proceed.