The Hawkesbury and Russell County detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have joined with the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital (HGH) to offer a new crisis response service through an innovative partnership. The goal of the new Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) is to provide early intervention and options for people in the midst of a mental health-related crisis.

People experiencing a crisis often call 9-1-1 for assistance. When a mental health-related call comes in, an OPP officer and an experienced mental health professional team up to provide the person in crisis, their families and caregivers with immediate and appropriate care. Crisis may relate to psychosocial acute situations such as loss of shelter or basic needs, risk of self-harm to others, intoxication and not knowing where to turn to, people call the police. The MCRT approach will lead to timely and preventive interventions as well as a reduction in traumatic mental health apprehensions.

Hawkesbury OPP

Since February 2021, Provincial Constable Mario Gratton has been patrolling the Hawkesbury area and surroundings with Mental Health Counsellor Frantz Neveu from HGH three days a week. With advanced mental health training and experience, Neveu can screen for serious mental health situations or substance abuse; complete a mental health assessment; advocate for client care with various partners in the community, as well as assess people needing emergency hospitalization. He will also assess for risk of suicide and provide health information for family members and caregivers. Constable Gratton will assist in ensuring a secure environment to provide care as well as in an emergency hospitalization situation.

“Our objective is to reduce the number of people in hospital,” Gratton explained.

In 2018 the Hawkesbury OPP detachment received 121 calls for service where mental health was an issue. In 2019 the detachment had 176 calls for service, while in 2020 there were 194 calls for service. Just six months into 2021 there have been 110 calls for service illustrating the  constant rise in mental health issues for which police are called in to assist.

“We have had good results. I think the population appreciates this,” Gratton said.

As an example of an MCRT intervention, Gratton and Neveu will meet with individuals who are suicidal and see if they can offer any assistance to help get them through the difficulty. They will assess the individual’s suicide risk and determine if they should be taken to the hospital.

Gratton noted many people in MCRT interventions are initially hostile to police, but discussion helps calm them down and in most cases there ends up being a friendly, constructive dialogue between them, police, and the counsellor.

Mental health difficulties often impact the families of the people experiencing them. Gratton said people are often unsure of how to get help, so they call the police.

“They don’t know where to go, they don’t know what to do,” the Hawkesbury OPP officer explained.

Neveu said people in mental distress are less intimidated when a civilian professional accompanies police officers on an intervention.

“They’re more calm – they don’t see the uniform anymore.”

The Mobile Crisis Response Team is proof of how law enforcement and mental health professionals can work together, Neveu said.

“We complement each other.”

Russell County OPP

As of July 5, another MCRT team will be deployed in the Russell Region three days a week to ensure all of the Prescott-Russell counties benefit from the program. The Russell team will be comprised of Provincial Constable Melissa Bouchard and Mental Health Social Worker Bruce Denis from HGH.

“It’s to reduce the amount of people affected by mental health issues entering the criminal justice system,” said Bouchard.

“This new partnership will provide persons, facing difficult circumstances, personalized and adapted care in a private and secure environment,” said HGH Chief of Staff Dr. Julie Maranda in a statement. “By working with the OPP, we’re focusing on the client’s needs and offering access to the right care, at the right time in the right place.”