CORNWALL – A program to divert mental health calls from mainline police services in SDG Counties is seeking permanent funding in the upcoming municipal budget.
SD&G OPP Detachment Commander Marc Hemmerick presented an update on the Mobile Crisis Response Team program, and his budget request, at the December 19 SDG Counties Council meeting.
Highlighting the program’s accomplishments in its second year of operation, Hemmerick told council that involuntary apprehensions are down 42.5 per cent, and diversion to mental health services are up 45.3 per cent.
“That is a pretty phenomenal number that we have taken [apprehensions] down that low,” Hemmerick said. “That’s very important. We are saving officer time, we’re saving client time and stress, we’re saving community time and we’re also saving repeat time.
He said that diversions are the more important statistic.
“That means our officers and the community are recognizing people that are in need of mental health services and they are being referred before they get to us. We have the team reaching out before they get into that crisis stage.”
Hemmerick said the program is no longer just a policing priority, but a community priority.
“Does it benefit the police? Absolutely it does. But our benefit is to the residents of SD&G.”
Making a business case for continued funding, he explained that the MCRT program means dedicating two front line police officers to that team, but it lessens the mental health calls other officers have to respond to.
“We show an efficiency and a savings by putting a whole officer back on the road for every single mental health call we have,” said Hemmerick.
Currently the program has two officers, one per 12 hour shift, assigned with the mental health clinician dedicated only to mental health calls.
“The efficiency they cause returns one whole officer back to the road. We see further efficiencies because we’re seeing less hospital emergency room time.”
Stats provided by the OPP include the last three months officers spending 37 minutes on average on a call where police have to attend the emergency room at Cornwall Community Hospital.
“That’s unheard of right now,” he said. “It takes longer to go to the pharmacy.”
Wait times at Alexandria and Winchester Hospitals are also improving.
Overall responses in 2021-22 saw the MCRT program deal with 169 people, and 558 calls for service, a 46 per cent increase from its first year of operation.
Glengarry County saw the highest use of the MCRT program, followed by Dundas, Stormont and Cornwall.
In the last year, there were 23 calls for Iroquois, 22 in Morrisburg, four in Brinston, and three each in Williamsburg and in rural South Dundas. Alexandria had the highest number of calls for service at 50 in the last year.
Nearly 92 per cent of calls result in referral for further services.
Currently the program has funding for one therapist to deal with addiction and mental health that is funded on a yearly basis by SDG Counties. A second person is shared by the OPP and Cornwall Police Service’s MCRT program which collaborates with the OPP program. The Ministry of the Solicitor General also provides a yearly enhancement grant for one additional full time therapist. That enhancement is only available if a program has base funding.
Hemmerick told council that he has applied for permanent base funding from Ontario Health East but it was denied. Neighbouring Leeds-Grenville does have the base funding, but operates a smaller MCRT program than SDG.
“We are not only asking council to approve another $120,000 in the budget for this year, but moving forward we would like council to make it a permanent budget line,” he asked.
“We invest in our roads. We invest in our social services, in our libraries, we invest in our communities,” said Warden Tony Fraser. “This is, in my mind, a community investment that needs to be considered, and considered strongly, in our budget deliberations. I am sure you can go with confidence that we won’t leave you hanging.”
Councillor Jamie MacDonald (North Glengarry) threw his support behind permanent Counties funding for the MCRT program.
“This has been a game changer for us in SD&G,” he stated.
Councillors Carma Williams (North Glengarry) and Bryan McGillis (South Stormont) both said that SDG should lobby the province at any opportunity to get permanent provincial funding.
Councillor Steve Densham (North Stormont) asked if the program is the right size for the community, which Hemmerick confirmed it is currently.
“We are right where we need to be right now,” he said. “We are very comfortable with the results we are seeing and the workload.”
SDG Council will consider the $120,000 budget ask at its upcoming 2023 budget meetings in the new year.
This article was originally written for The Morrisburg Leader.