New mental health, substance use programs in Northern B.C.

Submitted by Northern Health

Northern Health is introducing new programs in communities across northern B.C. to support people with severe mental illness or substance use concerns. The programs will better connect northerners with crucial mental health or substance use services, when and where they need them the most.

“Caring for people who are experiencing issues with mental health and substance abuse is a complex issue,” said Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount. “We know that it involves a number of community partners, including the RCMP and health care providers. The funding announced today will provide new programs to better support northern residents and help improve the way services are delivered to individuals on the street, emergency rooms and in communities.”

To reduce the amount of time members of the RCMP spend with patients in the emergency department, a new psychiatric liaison nurse position will be added to hospitals in Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Fort St. John. The nurse will support physicians and staff in the emergency department by quickly helping to assess the patient, and start determining the best supports — either community based programs or in-patient care.

“Mental health and substance use support cannot come from a single organization, and instead need to be created in partnerships that wrap services around the patient,” said Mike Morris, MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie. “The new programs will help Northern Health better serve its clients, while getting the police officers back onto the road more quickly.”

As well, new intensive case management teams will be expanding from Prince George to Terrace and Fort St. John. The intensive case management teams are community-based, outpatient support teams that provide street and community outreach services to people with mental illness and/or substance use problems to connect them with appropriate care and services to reduce their time spent in hospital.

The third and final program underway in Prince George is the new Car 60, modeled after the similar Car 40 in Kamloops, Car 87 for the Vancouver Coastal Health region, and Car 67 for Fraser Health residents. Car 60 is a community mobile crisis response program comprised of staff with an expertise in mental health and substance use problems and a plain clothes RCMP officer. The program connects a person in the community in crisis with appropriate supports, determines if medical care at the hospital is required, and supports the RCMP in developing a joint response in addressing community mental health and substance use related calls.

“We have seen an increase in the number of mental health and substance use -related calls, and having the Car 60 program will help to better serve the person we’re trying to help,” said Warren Brown, Superintendent, Prince George RCMP. “This mobile crisis response program has been successful in other communities in B.C., and we’re confident that it will also be successful here in Prince George.”

The three new programs were made possible by the Ministry of Health’s investment beginning in 2014/15 of $20.25 million to health authorities to support programs and services for those with severe mental illness or substance use issues. This investment aligns with the provincial government’s 10-year mental-health and substance use plan, Healthy Minds, Healthy People, which focuses on prevention, early intervention, treatment and sustainability.

As well, the Ministry of Health recently released several policy papers which outline the strategic service priorities for the health sector. These priorities focus on building primary and community care supports.

For a full list of mental health and addiction programs within the region, visit: www.northernhealth.ca.

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