'A largely absent resource': Those who call on Vancouver's police-based mental health team hope funding boost will improve service
There’s so much demand for Vancouver’s mental health emergency teams that people can be left waiting days, and sometimes teams never make it to requests for service at all. It’s hoped a funding boost to hire more staff will increase capacity of the service.
According to the Vancouver Police Department, the Car 87 and 88 teams attended around 2,500 calls in 2022, an average of nearly 7 calls per day. Only one team is on shift at a given time for the whole city, covering the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The Car 87 program was first created in 1978, pairing a psychiatric nurse with a plain clothes police officer to attend non-emergency mental health calls. In 2020 a second team was added, known as Car 88.
Wendy Braun is a registered psychiatric nurse and has been involved with Car 87 since 1995. She jokes that a lot of the police officers she works with “weren’t even born” when she started with the program.
Braun said she spends half her day at Vancouver General Hospital doing paperwork and the other half of her day out on the street with a plainclothes officer.
“Usually before we head out on the road we have a list of people who are going to require assessment that we are going to try and locate and assess,” Braun said.
“We’ll see anything from maybe a university student who’s experiencing a first break psychosis, or we can see somebody maybe who is living in a single-room occupancy hotel and the staff are calling us with concerns.”
Time spent on a call can vary greatly, meaning some calls for service are left waiting.
“Sometimes we plan to see someone for 2-3 days in a row but we keep getting diverted to something more urgent,” she said. “Often I have to tell people that there’s just one of us for the whole city at any given time.”
Janice Abbott is the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit organization that runs a number of social housing buildings. She said her team has “vast experience” with Car 87.
“Over time and out of frustration we call Car 87 less and less. Our experience is that Car 87 almost never show up,” Abbott said. “To date, it’s been a largely absent resource.”
On Sunday, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim announced a $2.8 million grant will be given to Vancouver Coastal Health from the city. Most of that money will be used to hire 58 more nurses to expand the car program; it's hoped they will be in place by the end of the year.
Abbott said the resources can’t come soon enough.
“I’m disappointed that we’re looking at the end of the year, not the end of the month… but it’s a step in the right direction,” Abbott said.
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