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Pilot Project Aims to Help Local Police on Mental Health Calls

CMHA Crisis workers will start accompanying local police officers on mental health crisis calls in Woodstock and Oxford County.

WOODSTOCK/OXFORD COUNTY - A new two year pilot project in Oxford County will help local police when they respond to a call of someone experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Oxford County OPP and the Woodstock Police Service are teaming up with the Canadian Mental Association of Oxford for the project starting this fall.  The Mental Health Engagement and Response Team otherwise known as MHEART will consists of CMHA crisis workers embedded with Oxford OPP and Woodstock Police.  

Crisis workers will now accompany police officers on mental health calls and will help officers de-escalate a situation. They will help determine whether there's a need to arrest someone under the Mental Health Act or divert an individual to community-based mental health supports.

Executive Director of CMHA Oxford Mike McMahon says this will be a great resource for our community. 

"Addressing a person’s mental health or addictions issue requires the right response, by the right professional at the right time. Having the resources available during a crisis call is critical to de-escalating a situation as is following up with that person to make sure they get access to appropriate community supports."

Oxford OPP Detachment Commander Tony Hymers says they are pleased to partner in MHEART as it aligns with the organization’s overall Mental Health Strategy.

"Increasing referrals to mental health services, enhancing training for frontline responders and developing these types of collaborative response models are key pillars in the OPP strategy. Today's announcement exemplifies our commitment to improve our response to the mental health needs of the individuals we serve."

Woodstock Police Chief Bill Renton echoed those comments saying that having crisis workers alongside police will lead to fewer emergency room visits, which frees up hospital resources and officers time, since they're required to remain with the individual apprehended under the Act.

"MHEART certainly allows for a more efficient mobilization of local services which ultimately leads to a better outcome for the community. This means that individuals in crisis will receive more appropriate care while freeing up officers to do what they do best and that’s focusing on community safety."

MHEART is funded for two years by a Proceeds of Crime Frontline Policing Grant, which comes from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. 

This program also has the potential to save taxpayers money. Currently it costs about $72 a day to house a person in the community with mental health supports. It costs $460 a day to have that person in jail or $485 a day for that same person to spend a day in the hospital. 

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