Many calls that come to police do not involve a crime; in a lot of cases, calls are about at-risk individuals with mental health or addiction problems who need immediate support.
A different approach launched in Saskatoon in 2014 has changed the way the province’s largest city is meeting the needs of this vulnerable population. Through the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), pairings of a police constable and a mental health worker from Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service now respond to these non-criminal calls. The program, which started out as a pilot in 2014, is now a permanent collaborative effort involving Saskatoon Health Region, Saskatoon Police Services, and Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service.
It’s all about matching the appropriate response to the individual or situation. Saskatoon’s two full-time PACT teams now handle all calls involving individuals with a mental health or addiction crisis. They connect these individuals and family members to community supports or medical resources, transport them to EDs where appropriate, or help arrange shelter, then follow-up by phone to ensure people are safe and receiving the services they require.
“Having a mental health patient in a crisis end up in a police cell or waiting in a hospital emergency department wasn’t addressing the real problem that person was dealing with. Sending out PACT ensures a better outcome for all of us.” (Tracy Muggli, Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Saskatoon Health Region)
Saskatoon’s new approach is resulting in faster response to, and more effective support of, people in crisis, fewer arrests, fewer — and shorter — visits to the ED, and improved safety for individuals involved and the public generally.
Between November 1, 2014 and October 31, 2015, PACT teams made a total of 875 contacts. These contacts helped avoid 97 visits to the ED and many potential admissions; estimated health care cost avoidance for the year was just shy of $200,000. PACT teams also assisted 192 individuals at risk for suicide. Supporting these at-risk individuals in the community, and avoiding ambulance trips, ED visits, and admissions avoided an estimated $840,000 in health care spending.
“We knew there was a need to change how these calls are handled,” says Tracy Muggli, Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Saskatoon Health Region. “Having a mental health patient in a crisis end up in a police cell or waiting in a hospital emergency department wasn’t addressing the real problem that person was dealing with. Sending out PACT ensures a better outcome for all of us.”