Doc shows benefit of crisis teams

The Coxwell/Danforth Library will be holding a free public screening tomorrow of the documentary Crisis Call, which explores how police deal with people experiencing mental health crises.

Earlier the same day, a group of advocates from the community and neighbourhood surrounding Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH), including police and elected officials, will be attending a presentation at the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) office downtown, to support the hospital’s third attempt at securing funding for a mobile crisis intervention team. The teams usually consist of a police constable and a nurse, who are the first contact for people in crisis.

Crisis Call’s producer/director Laura Sky was inspired to create the film after recent police shootings of people in crisis. The film investigates whether there are better ways to avoid a mental health crisis from becoming a violent confrontation, through interviews with police, mental health professionals, psychiatric ‘survivors’ and other members of the justice system.

Doug Pritchard, who was “unfortunately and unexpectedly” a witness to the police shooting of Michael Eligon near TEGH in February, was approached by Sky, who offered to show the movie locally. Sky,  author Michael Armstrong and Pritchard will all take part in a discussion after the screening. Pritchard has been researching the intervention teams, and says the benefits are immediately clear.

“Other cities have shown us the way,” he said. In the U.S., Atlanta is one of the leaders; in Canada, Edmonton, Halifax and Hamilton “have all embraced a much more comprehensive approach to mental health and policing,” he said.

Rob Devitt, CEO of TEGH, said he’s hoping the LHIN will agree that a mobile crisis intervention team would be a huge asset for the neighbourhood.

“The intent is to have a more effective response from ‘the system’, the system being not only the police but the health care system,” he said. “I’m optimistic the LHIN’s going to be very supportive. The populations we serve out here in the East End really would benefit from this service, the statistics are clear.”

Linda Young is Director of Maternal Newborn Child, Mental Health, Interprofessional Practice and Organizational Learning. She would be responsible for implementing the hospital’s end of the team, which would work about 50 hours spread out over seven days per week. The two key goals of the team would be to de-escalate situations, and to ensure the person in crisis gets access to the services they need.

“[The team would] identify whether or not the client needs to be brought to the hospital, or whether there’s a way to de-escalate the situation and leave it as it is, or the need to link them up with community resources,” she said. “The real goal is to intervene in the community and to not have people either picked up and charged through the legal system, or brought into the hospital emergency department.”

Pritchard said the Eligon shooting was an eye opener for him and many of his neighbours. He hopes this time around, in light of Eligon’s death in February, the LHIN will find funding for an East End mobile crisis intervention team.

“Every time I walk past that spot on the street I think about Mr. Eligon and the officers who engaged him, and everyone was traumatized by it – the police, the neighbours, Mr. Eligon’s family,” he said. “That young police officer will live with this for the rest of his life, Mr. Eligon’s son has lost his father, and I think all of us in the neighbourhood have woken up to some of the limitations of policing and mental health care. The encouraging thing is that other police forces have found better ways of dealing with it, and have pioneered it, and proven it, so we’re not searching for an answer, we’re searching for the resources to implement it.”

Crisis Call will screen at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the Coxwell/Danforth branch of the Toronto Public Library. The branch is at 1675 Danforth Ave., half a block east of Coxwell.

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