LONG SAULT, ONT. -- Police officers responding to mental health calls in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry counties (SD&G) in eastern Ontario now have another tool in their toolbox.

A mobile crisis response team was launched in late September in a partnership that included the counties, the Cornwall Community Hospital and the SD&G Ontario Provincial Police detachment.

Its goal is to offer services for mental health calls by having a registered nurse go along with officers to that call.

"Approximately two years ago, we noticed that mental health calls in general started to elevate and it was a big part of our community and became a big part of our business, so we had to look alternate methods on how we can handle this issue," said Mike Mulhearn, the detachment commander of the SD&G OPP.

"We looked at all types of different avenues for funding and, eventually, went to the United Counties of SD&G and they saw the program and saw the benefits elsewhere and they thought, yup, it could really be a good thing here."

From 2007 to 2018, mental health-related calls for service increased by 42 per cent.

The program launched on Sept. 28 and has already seen results.

"For the first four weeks, we were involved in about 28 calls for service with our nurse," Mulhearn said. "We got resources for 16 of those individuals, so I'm going to suggest right off the bat we've seen some really good results."

That nurse is Don Depratto, who has been a registered nurse for 27 years. He worked on the mental health crisis team in Cornwall for the past 7 years.

"It's been well received by the officers and the people we are seeing," said Depratto.

"It's a good blending of two services together. We come in to see a client and assess our own situations to our own criteria and it's better for the client," he added. "They may have a call where it's a wellness check or someone is expressing some suicidal thoughts. I will ride along with the officer to the call and they assess the risk of the situation, and then I come in and do the job of the mental health crisis team."

Depratto noted that he can offer the services directly to the client and prevent an admission to hospital.

"It's better for the client. They don't have to tell their stories 2 or 3 times," he said. "I get it the first time and then if, unfortunately, we have to bring them to the hospital, I can get that ball going ahead of time by calling the emergency room, talking to the nurses and the doctor, and calling the psychiatrist so that everything is organized. That way, the client is not stuck in emergency for a long time," Depratto said.

"They're processed and usually admitted when we have to bring them to the hospital. And from the police point of view, they are not spending five or six hours in a hospital. The wait time is reduced by a couple hours," he added.

Angel Quesnel, the acute response team's manager at Cornwall Community Hospital says this type of program improves access to services for individuals who may be struggling with addictions and mental health.

"They have actually proven to increase client engagement, increase quality of care, and also manage to decrease the unnecessary hospitalizations. This will benefit the counties of SD&G for all that it has to offer," Quesnel said. "The challenge with any of these types of programs, when they are one year pilots, is the sustainability of them. So, the hope is really that we will be able to continue to do this ongoing program."

Mulhearn said, with the good results so far, he can't see the program going away after one year is up.

"If the first month is any indication of how the next 11 months are going to go, then I certainly see this as something continuing," he said.

Depratto agreed, saying the officers have been great to work with.

"Police have come into my office and run situations by me and I give them my opinion and they are appreciative of that also," Depratto said. "Most times we don't have to respond right away, so I have time to look up on my computer to see if we've had any past history. There's a few calls where we go right away and I can call the crisis team and ask them to give me any information so there is a little bit of preparation before you respond to the client."

"We are reaching clients that typically would not go out to the hospital for services," he added. "We are being called there on a police matter and then I come in as a mental health nurse and sort of help them out and see if there is a need for services. It's been smooth and hospital is very supportive for my role."