Widow, Kamloops city staff call for more nurses to work with police on mental health calls | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Widow, Kamloops city staff call for more nurses to work with police on mental health calls

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July 26, 2020 - 12:00 PM

After her husband took his own life, a Kamloops widow is urging Interior Health to expand the mental health crisis service known as Car 40.

“Four years ago, I lost my husband to suicide. We were going through some hard times and he called me one evening, I was at work at the time and I ended up getting off work early, going and trying to meet up and when I realized what was happening I called the police, because that’s all you really know to do,” Elisha Hamilton says. “Either way, we lost him.”

At that time, Hamilton lived in Salmon Arm and calling the police seemed like the only option. She says the police officer made contact with him but didn't properly assess the severity of the situation and left. She believes if there was a mental health professional there, her husband might have survived that night. 

Hamilton says although her husband had been trying to get a hold on his suicidal thoughts, he wasn’t taken seriously.

“He had had an attempt a few weeks earlier, and the police, they didn’t think he was serious about it. He had been in touch with some mental health resources... but it wasn’t taken seriously, and by me as well. I take full responsibility for that. I didn’t think it was as serious as it was, and I’m not equipped to deal with that because I’m not a mental health professional,” Hamilton says.

Salmon Arm has never had such an option but after his death, Hamilton moved to Kamloops to further her education and realized what the City offered through Car 40. She began studying social work at Thompson Rivers University. One of her classes focused on policy change, and she says a 2018 iNFOnews.ca article inspired her to do a project on the Car 40 program.

“It was iNFOnews where I found the article about Ken Christian asking for funding back in 2018, that’s what I modelled my project after," Hamilton says. "That’s how I started this.”

Car 40, similar to the Police and Crisis Team in Kelowna, partners an RCMP officer with a registered Interior Health nurse, and the pair are dispatched to calls for mental health crises. Hamilton believes the program should be expanded to offer evening service, rather than just day time crisis support.

The matter was discussed last week at Kamloops’ community services committee meeting, with committee members calling for funding for more Car 40 hours.

“Mental health crises don’t just happen Monday to Friday on an 8 to 4 schedule and that seems to be how Car 40 operates right now,” says Kamloops councillor Mike O’Reilly. “What we’re asking is for a second shift, at this point it’s Interior Health that is reluctant to fund it… we are willing to come forward with the funding.”

O’Reilly says they’ll ask for funding from the province directly.

“The Car 40 we have now works well, but it could be working better but we need more services from Interior Health, more wraparound mental health services and the RCMP are fully behind that.”

READ MORE: Interior Health not on board with expanding mental health outreach in Kelowna, Kamloops

Supt. Syd Lecky from the Kamloops RCMP says they would like to see another nurse funded for the program.

“We can have a better service delivery if we have two nurses,” Lecky says. “With the rising calls for service and pressure on police in areas that we are not experts, it would be helpful to have partnerships such as these.”

The City of Kelowna is also looking for another nurse to expand Kelowna's Police and Crisis Team, particularly after video surfaced of one of its officers performing a 'wellness check' on a possibly suicidal UBCO student named Mona Wang who was dragged down a hallway in handcuffs before the officer stepped on her head. The Chief Supt. for the Southeast District RCMP said he wanted to see the program expanded across the region. 

Interior Health, however, has been coy, telling iNFOnews.ca it "isn’t, perhaps, the most effective use of that registered nurse’s time."

Interior Health hasn't changed that position, according to a statement provided for this story.

“Interior Health is meeting with partners to discuss services that support people in a mental health crisis. We share a commitment to continue to work together with police and others on effective solutions for people who require urgent mental health support. We must look at the whole picture, including the specific needs of communities and how to make the best use of available resources. Meetings scheduled in the coming weeks, including discussions with RCMP at the regional level, will provide an opportunity to review what is already in place and what may be needed to support the largest number of people in need of mental health support.”

Hamilton believes that the expansion of Car 40 could help people at the times when they need it most.

“Lots of people, myself included, have basically had a time where they wish they could’ve called Car 40 but they weren’t on that day... I’d like to find a way for people’s voices to be heard that they would have called Car 40 if they were available at that time,” Hamilton says. “For me, it’s connecting the people that need it to the appropriate resource at the time, rather than in the hospital.”

Hamilton hopes to get her master’s degree and help people who have experienced trauma. If you would like to sign the petition in favour of expanding Car 40, click here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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