The Delta Police Department is now the first police agency in B.C. using a new technology to help those experiencing mental health crises to more quickly get the help they need, while also decreasing the amount of time officers spend dealing with mental health apprehensions.
As of Tuesday, Oct. 8, all of the department’s frontline patrol officers had been trained on a new app available on their smartphones called HealthIM. The app helps turn officers’ observations when dealing with a mental health call into clinical language that medical staff can then more readily interpret.
While still at the initial call, an officer will take about five minutes to input the pertinent data. The app then automatically generates a clinical summary and securely forwards it to Surrey Memorial Hospital, which is where Delta police bring people dealing with a mental health crisis.
“When our officers arrive at the hospital with the patient, staff there will already know who is coming in and what observations were made that contributed to the officer making the decision to apprehend,” Sgt. James Sandberg, who heads up the DPD’s mental health unit, said in a press release. “We think this will be a really valuable tool in helping improve mental health outcomes in Delta.”
According to a DPD press release, mental health apprehensions on average mean 120-130 minutes of wait time for the officers involved.
Sandberg said other police departments using the app have seen significant decreases in wait times, and he believes Delta officers could see their average wait time cut in half.
He noted that police may apprehend someone under the Mental Health Act, but a physician ultimately determines whether someone should be admitted to hospital for care or released back into the community.
“Our community partners, like the Delta Police [Department], play a critical role in helping us provide quality, timely care to our patients,” Dr. Craig Murray, head of emergency medicine at Surrey Memorial Hospital, said in a press release. “This new technology means we can make sure we have the right resources in place, so when these vulnerable patients arrive we are ready to provide them with the care and support they need.”
In addition to reducing hospital wait times and improving communication with staff at the hospital, use of the app is also expected to help increase the speed of follow-up care. Previously, when an individual was apprehended, the officer would write a report detailing the interaction for the DPD’s mental health unit. When the mental health officers returned to work, they then would review the report and the person’s history, often then making referrals to appropriate community agencies.
HealthIM automates this process, so those that need help can receive it in a more timely fashion. As about 15 per cent of all calls for service in Delta involve a mental health component, the app should also free up time for the officers of the DPD’s mental health unit.
Sandberg said he believes the process of going through the app’s clinical assessment function will also serve to provide ongoing education to patrol officers regarding when people should be apprehended, which in turn should result in more consistency throughout the department when responding to mental health calls.