Having family members with mental-health challenges prepared Constable Robert Dyer for his latest role as an officer with the newest Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT).
“I have learned that you can’t use the same approach with everybody you encounter with mental-health problems,” said Dyer. “You have to take time to understand each and every person’s background. Working with a mental-health professional makes it better for the person we are dealing with.”
MCIT teams respond to calls involving people in mental health crises, including thoughts of suicide or self-harm threats, distorted or psychotic thinking, anxiety, overwhelming depression and temporary breakdowns.
“Working with a nurse provides us with hands-on experience that we don’t have,” said Dyer. “It gives us an option to tap into their knowledge and use their expertise to better guide us on how to resolve an issue. The best-case scenario is to resolve it at the scene instead of having to summon additional resources that may cause more trauma to the person we are dealing with.”
In 2011, the Service had 20,000 contacts with emotionally disturbed people.
Constable Nick Samaras, of 33 Division, is excited to be part of the team.
“This is something that’s long overdue in our Division,” said the officer, who has been with the Service 14 years. “On the job, we encounter people with mental-health issues regularly, and it’s good to know we have the expertise to help us out.”
The new team was launched on March 31.
The officer and the nurse will assess an individual's specific needs, provide intervention and support at the scene, de-escalate the situation and ensure the person is connected to appropriate services. The MCIT provides a secondary response to 9-1-1 calls involving people experiencing a psychiatric or emotional crisis that requires intervention.
It’s all about bringing resources to the individual when they need it, and where they need it, as well as offering individuals experiencing a crisis an alternative to visiting the emergency department
Sandy Marangos, the Director of Mental Health and Emergency Services at North York General Hospital, said the team allows for a thorough frontline assessment.
“Our psychiatric nurses, together with the police, are able to complete a thorough crisis assessment in the field and connect the individual to appropriate resources,” Marangos said. “It’s all about bringing resources to the individual when they need it, and where they need it, as well as offering individuals experiencing a crisis an alternative to visiting the emergency department.”
Marangos said her hospital joined the program because there is evidence that the MCIT is working.
“It’s something we have always wanted to do because we get a large number of patients coming into our emergency department accompanied by police,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for us to offer a service to the community that we didn’t have prior to the start of this initiative, and we know it’s an effective service.
“The biggest benefit is the expertise the police and nurse will offer going right to a situation in the community. It will actually prevent some people from having to come to our emergency department when that’s really not what they need. So it’s bringing expertise right to the scene and I think patients will get service and be connected to more resources than if they had just gone through the emergency department.”
Roberto Iasci is one of the two MCIT full-time registered nurses with the team.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my first week on the job,” said Iasci, who has been with the hospital since 2009. “This is a fabulous opportunity for our hospital to be able to put safe, sound and competent crisis support in place for those that need it. Mental health is on everyone’s radar and it’s a very important component of a human being that needs to be addressed.”
Marangos said Iasci, along with the second nurse, Lisa Pritchard, who starts in late April, have extensive experience.
“He has extensive mental-health experience, he’s very skilled in assessment in crisis situations and he knows the community and the resources very well,” said Marangos. “In addition, he’s very skilled at being able to connect with patients when they are in crisis, so he’s comfortable working in an environment where he’s independent and self-directed. He brings years of expertise in mental health to the situation.”
Marangos said Pritchard has worked with patients in crisis.
“She has got, like Roberto, extensive experience in mental health, dealing with patients in crisis. She’s also very skilled at connecting patients with resources. So I think both Roberto and Lisa will work very well with the police officers. What’s really important is that the police and the nurse who go out to a scene need to be seen as a cohesive team by the patient or family that they are working with.”
The MCIT is an interesting dynamic because we are merging two different disciplines and trying to get them to work together as a cohesive team
The teams will cover North York 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Superintendent Scott Gilbert, the Service’s MCIT project lead, said the TPS values the partnership with hospitals.
“It’s very important to the Service and the community because you are looking after vulnerable people and those with special needs,” he said. “We need to be able to provide the best service that is most appropriate to their needs in a timely fashion.”
“The MCIT is an interesting dynamic because we are merging two different disciplines and trying to get them to work together as a cohesive team,” Gilbert added. “The police officer can utilise his or her power of arrest under the criminal code and also the power of apprehension under the Mental Health Act Section 17.”
The MCIT program operates in 14 of the Services 17 Divisions.
In 51 and 52 Divisions, police are teamed up with St. Michael’s Hospital, in 11 and 14 Divisions with St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre, in 41, 42 and 43 Divisions with The Scarborough Hospital, in 12, 13 and 31 Divisions with Humber River Regional Hospital and in 54 and 55 Divisions with Toronto East General Hospital.
Gilbert said police and Toronto hospitals continue to work toward complete coverage of MCITs across all Divisions.