Delta Police first in BC to use new mental health apprehension tool

DELTA Police on Tuesday became the first police agency in BC to use a new technology to help those experiencing mental health crises to more quickly get the help they need, while freeing up police time spent dealing with mental health apprehensions.

All front line patrol officers with Delta Police have just 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 securely forwards a report to Surrey Memorial Hospital, which is the hospital to which Delta patients attend when 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,” says Sgt. James Sandberg, who heads up the Mental Health Unit at Delta Police. “We think this will be a really valuable tool in helping improve mental health outcomes in Delta.”

Previously, officers averaged 120-130 minutes wait time per mental health apprehension. Sgt. Sandberg notes that other police departments using the app have seen significant decreases in wait times, and he believes Delta could see the average wait time cut in half.

He notes that while police may apprehend someone under the Mental Health Act, a physician ultimately determines whether or not someone should be admitted to hospital for care, or released back into the community.

“Our community partners, like the Delta Police, play a critical role in helping us provide quality, timely care to our patients”, said Dr. Craig Murray, Head of Emergency Medicine at Surrey Memorial Hospital. “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 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 to the Delta Police Mental Health Unit. When the DPD Mental Health officers returned to work, they would review the report and person’s history, often making referrals to appropriate community agencies.

HealthIM automates this process, so those that need help can receive it in a more timely fashion. This should also free up time for the Mental Health Unit officers.

Approximately 15% of all Delta Police calls for service involve a mental health component. Sgt. Sandberg 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. This should result in more consistency throughout the department when dealing with mental health apprehensions.

Backgrounder – HealthIM app

What is HealthIM?

HealthIM is a digitized system used to support response to individuals with unmanaged mental health challenges in acute crisis. The system is comprised of a pre-response briefing, a mental health risk screener, tools to facilitate inter-agency communication and access to reporting and analytics. Communities which have implemented HealthIM have consistently been able to better manage risk, improve care for citizens in distress and more efficiently utilize resources.

How does it work?

Police officers may be called to respond to an individual in an acute state of crisis (often those with unmanaged mental health challenges and/or substance use issues). While a hospital may the most appropriate place for someone in this crisis, police have an obligation to respond to individuals in crisis and must initially evaluate the risk of an individual harming themselves, or potentially harming others.

After establishing contact with the person in crisis and when it is safe to do so, the responding officer will complete a short risk assessment based on the evidence-driven interRAI™ Brief Mental Health Screener (BMHS).

Assessment functionality

The assessment tool was specifically designed for use in law enforcement environments by an otherwise untrained police officer. The tool utilizes objective observations of behaviour. Officers are not asked, for example, to “guess if this person has schizophrenia” or “determine how depressed this person is.”

If the officer determines the person requires urgent assessment, a short clinical summary is automatically generated and transmitted to local emergency departments or acute care sites. Officers also have the ability to offer a connection to a community mental health resource. Healthcare practitioners receive the clinical summary and are able to better prepare for the arrival of the person in crisis.

Privacy considerations

Data is collected by police to assist police in evaluating their obligation to apprehend an individual at imminent risk of harm.

Given the urgency of the situation, police are electing to share this information, in one direction, to their healthcare partners to generate treatment momentum and to concisely communicate what was observed on scene.

The system complies with federal and provincial privacy legislation and employs military-grade cryptography to maintain data security and privacy. Transmission to receiving site(s) is completed via 4096-bit RSA encryption and TLS protected connections. Decryption is only possible at designated receiving terminals. All data is secured within Tier III Canadian data centres maintained by 100% Canadian-owned corporations.

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