Leah Dunbar with police officer Craig Hambrook and nurse Avi Unger
Leah Dunbar with police officer Craig Hambrook and nurse Avi Unger at the 2018 EPIC Research and Innovation Fair.

Mobile Crisis Intervention Team quality report shows surveyed clients feel safe and valued

Ellen Samek

In 2014, Toronto’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) program was expanded across the city and Leah Dunbar was put to the task of assessing the results.

Leah Dunbar, an MCIT project manager who works out of Michal Garron Hospital (MGH), conducted a quality assessment of the expansion. The report, 360 Evaluation Validates Impact of MCIT Expansion for Persons in Crisis, won the “Build Community” award at MGH’s annual Research and Innovation Fair earlier this year.

MCIT is a collaboration between Toronto Police Service (TPS) and six Toronto hospitals including MGH.  The program partners a specially trained police officer with a mental health nurse to respond to 911 emergency and dispatch calls for assistance in situations involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

The report found that the expansion was a success based on quantitative data collected by MCIT officers and nurses and feedback from staff, stakeholders and clients.

A notable finding of the report was that 94 per cent of clients who received MCIT services were satisfied with the care they received and 18 clients submitted surveys for the study.

“At the time I thought 18 was quite low, but I learned from other mental health services that getting responses to mental health surveys can be challenging due to the stigma associated with mental health,” says Leah. “The positive impact of MCIT was confirmed through the surveys returned from MCIT clients.”

According to the report, clients who responded to the survey overwhelmingly agreed that they were treated with respect MCITs and that their own decisions about care were valued. All the clients said they agreed or strongly agreed that their needs were met in a timely manner, they felt safe during their visit with MCIT and they would refer a friend in crisis to MCIT services.

The findings of Leah’s report were presented at the annual Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) International Conference in Kansas City. Crisis Intervention Teams from different parts of the world attend to exchange ideas and collaborate.

“One thing I learned was that we are one of the few jurisdictions that send out a police officer/registered nurse team to respond to crisis calls,” says Leah. “In the United States, for example, many programs train police officers to respond to mental health crises on their own. After that, a mental health worker will step in.”

For MCIT nurse Shelagh Scanga, the officer/registered nurse partnership is important to the job.

“We are a team. We are working together to make sure everyone is safe, we share information, we debrief,” she says. “I think this partnership works because the police officer and nurse trust each other in their respective roles.”

“Sometimes we can bring different perspectives into our assessment. We are always looking at what is in the best interest of the person in crisis that may not be available if we were acting independently of each other."

August Bonomo was an MCIT officer for three years. Like Shelagh, he believes the partnership between nurse and police officer is crucial to doing the job right and a unique aspect of how Toronto police respond to crisis calls.

“There is a uniqueness as well as effectiveness to our partnerships,” says August. “We are able to clinically respond in the field and give clients the care they need.”

August is now the Toronto Police Services mental health coordinator. He also attended the CIT conference with Leah.

One of his biggest takeaways was the pride he felt in how ahead of the curve Toronto is when it comes to data collection for MCIT.

“Our American colleagues were impressed at how we collect data about the program,” he says. “We learned that in Toronto, we’re actually very advanced in terms of collected data to achieve evidence-based results.”

Mental Health Services at Michael Garron Hospital works in partnership with clients and community members to provide a range of care options both on the main hospital campus and in other affiliated site in the East Toronto community. An interdisciplinary team of physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists, psychometrists, social workers, mental health workers, case managers, and addiction workers will work in partnership with clients to achieve their recovery goals. Offsite areas of care include the Withdrawal Management Centre which maintains a residential program and a day-program.

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