Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Calgary community health staff to be dispatched to non-emergency crises as pilot project

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A Calgary program that sends community health staff to respond to certain 911 and 211 calls, in lieu of uniformed police officers, will operate for at least a year.

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The Alex Community Health Centre has been selected to deliver a one-year mobile crisis response pilot program in District 4 in east Calgary.

The program will send staff who are educated in crisis response and de-escalation. Plainclothes police officers will accompany the staff.

At a media conference Tuesday, Joy Bowen-Eyre, CEO of The Alex, said the program will ensure mental health or crisis calls are dealt with by staff who are appropriately trained.

She said the training includes crisis mental health and de-escalation tactics, first aid, naloxone administration, suicide intervention, crisis intervention and trauma-informed care.

The teams will be dispatched for calls to 911 and 211 that are deemed to be non-emergencies.

In a media release, the City of Calgary said the pilot program comes from a research report conducted to assess the city’s crisis response system.

Police Chief Mark Neufeld said the service listened to feedback from those in the community who said they wanted non-police responses to mental health crises.

“At the same time, our own employees were telling us that they were responding to an escalating number of dispatch calls that were better suited to response by health, addictions and social service providers,” he said.

“We recognize that uniformed police officers aren’t always the best option for those experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis. However, police have become the default response for those in the community, particularly outside of regular business hours and into the weekends.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the pilot program is part of a “community safety investment framework,” which is funded by the city and the Calgary Police Service.

Gondek said one of the gaps identified by the framework is the need for a diverse response to those experiencing crisis.

“Investment in the community mobile crisis response pilot program allows us the opportunity to transform how Calgarians are supported during a period of crisis.”

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