British Columbia’s police chiefs have successfully lobbied the provincial government for funding to dramatically expand an app to screen, document, and assess what kind of mental health resources will best serve people they encounter in distress.
Buried in a long and comprehensive plan to address public safety challenges announced by the premier on Sunday is funding for the HealthIM app, touted as providing better connections between law enforcement and the healthcare system.
“This helps determine whether or not they need to be in hospital in the first place,” said RCMP Supt. Todd Preston, president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, who pointed out officers are spending hours in busy hospitals waiting to hand patients over to health-care professionals, which can stigmatize the patient in their custody.
His association has spent months urging the province to get behind the system, which he says will likely take months to plan, train and implement, but insists it’s geared at helping responding officers avoid conflict triggers and determine which help is best for someone in crisis.
“This allows things hopefully to speed up so they can be seen by a practitioner sooner,” Preston said, pointing out a quarter to half of police calls for service on a given day can involve reported mental health issues. “Oftentimes we’ll ask the same questions as the hospital. This way, before they leave the scene, officers are actually sharing (information) with the hospital.”
DELTA PILOTED THE APP IN 2019
The Delta Police Department is the only agency in the province already using the system, which was first established among municipal police forces in Ontario, and has been gradually rolling out throughout the Prairie provinces.
In an urgent, violent or high-risk situation, only a handful of details are sent to Surrey Memorial Hospital. Where it’s not an acute call, DPD officers complete a checklist (irritability, delusions, hallucinations, for example) and the app generates a report that goes to a medical practitioner at the hospital who can recommend apprehension under the Mental Health Act or suggest alternative care.
A spokesperson told CTV News that since 2019 they’ve slashed time spent on paperwork, standardized their reporting, improved information sharing with health-care workers and cut overall apprehensions. They used the app for 421 assessments on 331 people in 2021.
When a subject has been previously assessed with the HealthIM app, a baseline of information is available for officers, including specific de-escalation and trigger avoidance advice,” wrote the DPD in an email. “This information can assist in de-escalating a situation sooner and safer, which translates into improved care for the affected person.”
HEALTHIM MUST CUSTOMIZE THE APP
CTV News asked Vancouver Coastal Health how long it expects to take to integrate HealthIM into their system. They referred us to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, which acknowledged the request but never provided information.
HealthIM’s president said it will take time to not only train officers and healthcare professionals on how to use the app, but also to customize the software to suit municipal police forces and RCMP requirements for privacy and integration, as well as those of the six provincial health authorities.
“We are still in the scoping process,” said Daniel Pearson-Hirdes, who said they had not discussed a budget with the province.
Observations of pre-hospital behaviour can be lost in the transfer of patient from police to health-care worker, he said, and this way they can streamline the handoff and even avoid hospital care altogether if community support is more appropriate.
“There’s nothing that’s going to replace an officer’s professional judgment on scene,” said Pearson-Hirdes. “What this does is augment that by helping guide them through, ‘What should I be thinking about, what should I be looking for at this call?’ And (then) helping wrap that into a report that helps communicate with (health) agencies.”
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