Funding promised for app to help BC police assess mental health calls
DAWSON CREEK, BC -- The provincial government is promising funding for a new app to help police with mental health calls.
The HealthIM app is part of premier David Eby’s public safety plan announced on Sunday. It allows officers to screen, document, and assess what kind of mental health resources will best serve people they encounter in distress.
Officers can use the app to send details of a mental health call to hospitals. In an urgent, violent, or high-risk situation, only a few details will be sent; however, if it’s a non-acute call, the officer can complete a checklist (for irritability, delusions, hallucinations, for example) and the app generates a report that goes to a medical practitioner at the hospital who can recommend apprehension under the Mental Health Act or suggest alternative care.
HealthIM can also provide a baseline of information about a person who has been previously assessed with the app, and provide de-escalation and trigger avoidance advice for officers.
The BC Association of Chiefs of Police have spent months urging the province to get behind the system.
“This helps determine whether or not they need to be in hospital in the first place,” said RCMP Supt. Todd Preston, president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police.
Preston says the system will likely take months to roll out, but insists it’s geared at helping responding officers avoid conflict triggers and determine which help is best for someone in crisis.
The app is already being used in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. The Delta Police Department also piloted the app in 2019 – so far they are they only agency in the province using the system.
A DPD spokesperson told CTV News that since 2019 they’ve slashed time spent on paperwork, standardized their reporting, improved information sharing with health-care workers and cut overall apprehensions. They used the app for 421 assessments on 331 people in 2021.
Dawson Creek police spend a substantial amount of time and resources on mental health calls, and Constable Emma Baron says the HealthIM app is a great move in the right direction, and hopes it can help free up police to let them be more proactive in the community.
“For one mental health apprehension where someone needs to go to the hospital, we can be waiting several hours with them, which ties up police quite a bit,” said Cst. Baron.
HealthIM’s president said it will take time to not only train officers and healthcare professionals on how to use the app, but also to customize the software to suit municipal police forces and RCMP requirements for privacy and integration, as well as those of the six provincial health authorities.
“We are still in the scoping process,” said Daniel Pearson-Hirdes, who said they had not discussed a budget with the province.
Observations of pre-hospital behaviour can be lost in the transfer of patient from police to health-care worker, he said, and this way they can streamline the handoff and even avoid hospital care altogether if community support is more appropriate.
“There’s nothing that’s going to replace an officer’s professional judgment on scene,” said Pearson-Hirdes. “What this does is augment that by helping guide them through, ‘What should I be thinking about, what should I be looking for at this call?’ And (then) helping wrap that into a report that helps communicate with (health) agencies.”
With files from CTV's Penny Daflos.