OPP, CMHA officials thrilled with IMPACT results

A recent collaboration between the OPP and CMHA is such a success the program is expanding locally and is highly sought-after across the province.

Just over two years ago, the Wellington County OPP and the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) launched the Integrated Mobile Police and Crisis Team (IMPACT).

Funded by the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integrated Network, the program enables specially-trained clinicians to attend mental health-related calls alongside Wellington OPP officers.

“We bring the expertise with us,” said OPP Inspector Scott Lawson.

He noted that in April a third IMPACT clinician will be hired to keep up with the demand for services.

“That demonstrates the need … and the operational impact [it] has in the community,” Lawson told the Advertiser.

He explained the OPP responds to an average of three mental health and addiction calls daily, resulting in over 400 officer hours per month dedicated to those calls.

“You can only fathom what that would look like (without IMPACT),” said Lawson.

IMPACT manager Brooke Young called the program “one of the greatest partnerships” the CMHA has ever had.

“It’s been incredibly successful,” said Young, adding, “Our team is able to engage people who are really struggling with immediate intervention.”

As a result of the IMPACT program, about 70% of mental health and addiction calls have been diverted from area emergency departments, Lawson explained.

Plus, he added, of the patients the OPP does apprehend under the Ontario Mental Health Act, over 50% ultimately require a long-term stay in a mental health facility.

“That shows we’re getting to the right people,” said Lawson.

“It’s absolutely helping our community because we’re able to focus on the crisis at the time, when people really need the help.”

Young explained the clinicians, or crisis response coordinators, work full time for CMHA and are stationed at the OPP office in Aboyne.

From April to the end of 2017, IMPACT officials responded to 604 requests for service and diverted 169 emergency room visits.

“The demand is certainly growing,” she said.

While acknowledging the program is “not about money,” Lawson estimated IMPACT has saved tens of thousands of dollars.

“You can not deny the cost savings for health care, for [the OPP] and for ambulance services,” he said.

He later added, “We’ve already paid for the [IMPACT team salaries] 50 times over.”

Lawson said he is proud that the IMPACT program, which was “born and raised in Wellington County,” is now offered in Guelph and Waterloo. He added local officials regularly receive inquiries about it from across the province.

The proactive approach to mental health has additional benefits, Lawson explained, including better equipping OPP officers to deal with mental health and addiction calls when a clinician is not available.

IMPACT officials can also help at local high schools, with patient transfers to hospitals and with diverting cases from the court system.

“It’s just endless, the positives,” Lawson said.

“We’re all working together … and we’re way more proactive than we’ve ever been before. We’re so upstream now …

“Nobody really sees the benefit (firsthand), but there’s a lot to be said for what we’re doing. It’s pretty awesome.”