Professionals and outreach workers will soon be able to respond to mental health and addiction calls in the city of Ottawa, rather than the police, as part of a new pilot project.
The city has unveiled plans for a three-year program called Safer Alternatives for Mental Health and Substance Use Crisis Response, which will see fewer mental health and addiction calls handled by police and more tracking and monitoring to be delivered. Continuous support for people in need.
A report from the June 27 Community Services Commission meeting says the plan would include the city creating an alternative non-911 answering service and a system for tracking and dispatching calls related to mental health and medication. It will also establish a “civilian-led multidisciplinary mobile crisis response team,” including social workers, nurses, case managers, psychologists and outreach workers.
“A lot of work has been done on this. We have consulted with the Mental Health Advisory Council and looked at what has been done in other cities,” Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said in a video posted to Twitter.
“We’re going to pilot a new service; a new service that will send mental health professionals to mental health calls.”
If approved by the council, the pilot will start in one neighborhood in Ottawa, before expanding to other areas of the city. The mayor says the city worked with Ottawa police and paramedics to develop the proposal.
“There will be an alternative number to 911 that residents can call, and there will be a team of qualified professionals specially trained to provide compassionate support designed for people experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis,” said Sutcliffe.
The City of Ottawa hopes to launch a non-911 program and community response team in the summer of 2024.
Community groups, elected officials and residents have called on Ottawa police and the city to develop a new strategy for mental health and addiction calls, saying calls should be diverted from the police to trained professionals.
In 2021, the Ottawa Police Service established a “steering committee” to develop its new mental health response strategy, with the aim of improving how police respond to mental health calls. The steering committee reviewed the current 911 system in Ottawa and alternatives in other cities.
Staff say that “several significant shortcomings” were identified when evaluating the current model, including that police and doctors are “the only agencies with the resources, staffing capabilities, and man-hours to dispatch resources in real time in the event of an immediate crisis.” The current program adds that police and mental health aides “don’t have the resources to respond to most crisis calls in real time.”
Council approved Ottawa’s first “Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan” with six priorities, including mental wellbeing. The desired results were:
- Often, mental health and addiction crisis cases are handled by the Ottawa Police Service
- More monitoring and control to provide ongoing support
- More mental health crisis cases are mitigated before a crisis point is reached
- Increase access to services and support for harm reduction and overdose prevention
The city has now revealed the new program, Safer Alternatives for Mental Health and Substance Use Crisis Response. Here is an overview of the two recommendations:
A non-911 number to receive, triage, and dispatch calls related to mental health and addiction will be launched in the third quarter of 2024.
“This provides the ability to call a number other than 911 directly by residents seeking help with mental health and addiction crises,” the staff explains. “In addition, the steering committee will explore a specific set of 911 mental health and addiction response calls that may also be channeled into non-911 services for assessment, triage, and referral intervention teams.”
The non-911 number is called the “No Wrong Door” approach, providing people with access to a range of mental health and addiction crisis response services. People who call 911 seeking help will be transferred to the alternate number mental health team for evaluation.
24/7 community response team
The City of Ottawa will establish a citizen-led and community-based mobile multidisciplinary response team to provide a “24/7 emergency response service that is culturally appropriate and trauma-informed.”
Staff say the mobile multidisciplinary crisis response team will be made up of mental health professionals and outreach workers, including social workers, nurses, case managers and psychologists.
The report notes that “the response team will be managed by partner agencies in the community who, in addition to the mobile crisis team, can provide individuals with comprehensive support offering a continuum of care with pathways to services.”
Staff say the Advisory Council on Mental Health and Addiction recommends launching the first phase in a single geographical location. The potential neighborhood of the pilot project was not mentioned in the report.
“This recommendation is based on an understanding of the complexity of launching a citywide program and the financial investment required to deliver such a response with sufficient resources to be successful,” the report states. “Given this, a first phase with sufficient resources in a geographic area allows time for successful evaluation and learning to scale up the 24/7 community response. 7.”
The City will issue a call for proposals for community nonprofit organizations to lead a response team.
The proposed pilot project would cost $2.45 million in the first year, which includes funding an agency to provide the non-911 number and a community-run agency to answer calls.
The city will ask Ottawa Police to seek funding from other levels of government to support the new mental health and addiction response strategy.