VANCOUVER – Police officers and nurses will be responding to mental health calls side-by-side under a new program announced Thursday in Richmond.

The city's RCMP detachment and Vancouver Coastal Health said they're launching the program to tackle a concerning rise in calls relating to mental health issues in the region.

Richmond is projected to see 2,267 such calls this year, according to officials, which is up from the average of 1,330 seen over the previous four years.

Under the program, when potentially complex calls about mental health or substance abuse issues come into the RCMP, an officer and nurse will be dispatched to the scene together in what's being called a Mental Health Car.

VCH head nurse Carmen Joost said the pairing will help ensure calls are dealt with "in a safe and compassionate and patient-centred way."

"We'll be able to respond to police calls with a mental health perspective. We'll be able to have an awareness of people that are coming to the attention of police and be able to offer support early and hopefully prevent a mental health crisis," Joost told CTV News.

Officials said they hope the program will reduce the need for emergency responses and emergency department admissions as people are connected with more appropriate supports.

"Hopefully that will bring our calls for (911 service) down in our community, and allow our first responders to actually attend calls for service that first responders should be going to," Supt. Will Ng said.