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Too little too late


The big announcement was made on April 1 - nearly a decade too late. Eastern Health finally unveiled its Mental Health Mobile Crisis Response Team after the recommendation was made in the Luther Report in 2003 and the Provincial Mental Health Policy Framework for Mental Health and Additions Services in 2005. The recommendation came as part of the provincial inquiry after Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) members fatally shot two mentally ill men in 2003.

The big announcement was made on April 1 - nearly a decade too late.

Eastern Health finally unveiled its Mental Health Mobile Crisis Response Team after the recommendation was made in the Luther Report in 2003 and the Provincial Mental Health Policy Framework for Mental Health and Additions Services in 2005.

The recommendation came as part of the provincial inquiry after Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) members fatally shot two mentally ill men in 2003.

The cases of the two men, Norman Reid of Little Catalina and Darryl Power of Corner Brook, were too completely different incidents, but were eventually combined in the provincial inquiry.

The facts found Mr. Power was armed with two knives and a hammer when he was fatally shot by the RNC in October 2000, a death deemed "suicide-by-cop". Whereas, Mr. Reid was killed in a standoff with RCMP in August 2000 after he was found armed with a hatchet.

Recommendations from the combined inquiry not only listed a need for the creation of mobile health units by regional health boards, but also for controls and protocols to be put in place for the detention of mentally ill individuals in lockups and holding cells and that home-care services should be available and provided to those with addictions and a mental illness.

The question is, would those two men still be alive today if an experienced social worker had shown up at their door instead of members of the local law enforcement?

Living in rural Newfoundland, we all know there are very few specialized services for the mentally ill and people combating addictions in our communities. Those individuals are forever fighting for support, whether it is for housing substitutes, home care or rehabilitation.

Due to the lack of support, local organizations and service members - including the RCMP and RNC have taken the responsibility of responding to such crisis the best way they know how.

Members of the RCMP and RNC are not professionally trained to deal with such matters. They are trained under the law to uphold the law. To men and women who attended those scenes on those fateful days - the men were holding lethal weapons and were a threat. Plain and simple. However, if a trained mental health professional were on the scene - they would have had the training and possibility the medication readily available to calm down the victim and no doubt de-escalate the situation.

However, Eastern Health promises the mobile crisis unit is there to serve this purpose and address the problem if a crisis occurs.

The new innovative team travels in an unmarked van (as to not draw attention to a mentally ill individual in the community) and comprises of psychiatric nurses, licensed practical nurses and social workers that are solely responsible to respond to psychiatric crises in the St. John's area.

The fact is that the stigma surrounding mental illness and addictions has to change and the programs offered in St. John's should be offered across the province.

No doubt there will be groups and individuals that may benefit from the team and this innovative approach to understanding and addressing addiction and mental health issues.

However, time will tell.

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