FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Fort St. John’s new Car 60 program launched this week, pairing a mental health clinician with general duty RCMP officers to respond to mental health calls within the city.
Insp. Tony Hanson, detachment commander of the Fort St. John RCMP, says the program aims to better address mental health crises and the needs of individuals working through them, reiterating that police officers were never intended to be medical professionals.
“We completely acknowledge that we are not mental health workers, and we don’t claim to be. We acknowledge some of the criticisms, and so we’re trying to find a better way to provide a service to people who are in crisis, with medically trained people,” said Hanson.
Having headed a Car 60 unit in Prince George before arriving in the Peace region, Hanson has seen the benefits of the program first-hand.
“The reality is that police will always be called, but we’re not always the best solution – so we’re trying something new,” he said.
While just one mental health and substance use clinician from Northern Health will be joining the Car 60 team for now, Hanson says there’s always the possibility of expanding.
Clinician Meaghan Mallough says her role is to provide better outcomes for residents, connecting them with services and advocating for any help they might need.
“You have different calls and it could be behavioural or something else, so giving people that piece of mind that we’re here to help,” she said. “Connecting to services is a lot of it.”
Having worked in Saskatoon and Prince Albert as a counsellor, Mallough clarified that she is not a nurse but a substance abuse specialist – holding a bachelor’s in addictions counselling.
“I have a very strong assessment background, mainly understanding disabilities, addiction, and mental health,” said Mallough. “My work itself has been more social work, so I get see all of the social problems, and help people navigate those systems.”
Mental health calls haven’t changed drastically in the past two years, with 343 calls to RCMP in 2020 and 349 in 2021.
However, Hanson says the calls remain time intensive, with officers waiting for hours at the emergency room to ensure mental health patients get to a physician. Mallough will be available during the day to attend calls with officers needing help on the frontline.
Mallough will also have access to Northern Health’s patient database, using the information to better inform any calls attended, and potentially resolving issues without a trip to the emergency room.
“This will alleviate some of the time pressures in terms of wait times at the ER. We have wait times anywhere between 30 minutes and three hours for some of these files,” Hanson said.